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"Black women will save the world." An interview with Tosha Stimage

Clyde Bennett III, Education Department volunteer

Fri, Nov 09, 2018

Multidisciplinary artist Tosha Stimage, currently a visiting assistant professor at Columbus College of Art & Design, will lead a November 15 gallery talk entitled, "The Self-Aware Subjects and Spaces of Mickalene Thomas". Below, Clyde Bennett III offers a Q&A with Stimage about her own work and her experience with Thomas's art.

Bennett is a second-year undergraduate student at Ohio State studying Finance in the Fisher College of Business. He is the Director of Communication for the Council of Black Students in Administration, a participant in the Leadership Institute of Ohio State’s Bell National Resource Center, and a member of the new Wexner Student Engagement group who volunteers to support Public and University Programs at the Wex.

 

Tell me about the first time you met Mickalene Thomas and how that went.

Oh, wow. The first time I met Mickalene Thomas was in San Francisco. She was a part of a show that Jessica Silverman, who’s a gallery owner, a curator, and an art handler, had put together. So she was there for her own opening, but also there was an MFA opening for California College of the Arts. One of my fellow MFA classmates was a part of the show, and Jessica brought Mickalene and her partner, Racquel, to that space to see the students’ work. That was the first time I got to meet her and to tell her how much I really respect her work and her practice and the ideas she was putting out into the world. It was a phenomenal experience, and I superfanned all the way out, I was fangirling. Then the second time I met her was here at the Wexner Center for the Artist Talk, which was phenomenal as well.

In what ways is Mickalene Thomas a muse to you? Or does she serve another role for you?

I think Mickalene Thomas is a muse for me first of all because she is a black woman who has totally rocked the art world with her ideas, her aesthetic, and her ability to create a product that is really pristine. Representation matters. I feel like in undergrad there was very little talk about people of color in art, it’s like they exist but it’s like either the record of their work doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t get talked about in a way that makes you feel connected to a history of arts where you can locate yourself as a maker. So it was important to me because she’s an artist that is highly visible, and that visibility motivates young artists who are still a part of an institution that are learning more about their craft, but also motivates artists who are outside the institution who are looking for people who are like them that are having conversations that they are wanting to have. This visibility validates who you are as a person of color, as a woman, as a black woman. Mickalene Thomas is certainly a muse as she’s making art on her own terms, and making visible black bodies in a way that black bodies aren’t always visual in artwork. You can see this in her show when she’s “returning the gaze” or “flipping the gaze” where we typically see subject matter that is very Eurocentric but in almost all parts of the show it’s not only Thomas using herself as muse, but she’s also using the people in her sphere of influence as people that are important and people that should be looked at in art.

Why do you think the portrayal of black women in art is few and far between? How can this be improved?

Wow, that’s like huge. I’ll address how it’s being improved currently. I think that the Wexner Center is doing a phenomenal job by recognizing the merit, the talent, the necessity of conversations about blackness, queerness, femininity, and bringing visibility to that by having Mickalene as an artist in their space and creating these type of public engagement opportunities with people that probably wouldn’t ever know about her work and inviting them into her space for things like artist talks, so they can have more of a personal experience of the work by hearing her in conversation with another black scholar on her own terms, where she can speak for herself.
I think there’s a lot of reasons why black women’s art isn’t visible. One of the things is there are groups of people where there is more of a luxury in time. Black women carry a lot on their shoulders and don’t always have the luxury of time to do things that are non-essential to living. Black women are just trying to stay alive and using all your creative energy just to survive takes away from the creative time and energy that you could put into actually making something that is a commentary on society or your existence. This problem comes from things like not having funding, or extra time to devote your energy to creating something. Instead of creating, black women are consistently focused on survival, and raising their kids a certain way so they don’t get shot dead in the street….Black women will save the world.

Would you discuss your collective, Black Infinity, and any other projects we should know about?

Black Infinity is something really special to me. So, the purpose of black infinity is to provide both physical and online support and promotion for people of color. It started out as me seeing lots of my friends who are very talented go along without many financial resources, or resources like spaces to show work. Instead of complaining about those things or reiterating the problem, I asked myself what I could do with what I have to create a solution to this problem. So that’s how the Black Infinity was born. We have a website that every time we have an exhibition there’s a page with each artist that has an example of their work, a bio about that artist, and an external link that takes you to their website, so you can further your inquiry. Our inaugural exhibition was this past December. The entire month of December not only did we have an exhibition, but we had events that were free and open to the public, like screen printing demos, panel discussion, and emerging artists coming by and talking about the future of art in Columbus and how people can become involved in this process. This was our way of not only operating in the bubble of the art world but extending our impact into the communities we’re a part of.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

My biggest advice is to believe in yourself. It’s something that sounds so cliché but it’s so true. I remember in undergrad, I felt like I didn’t have voices that were speaking to my work that could really resonate with my experience as a black woman and as a creator. So, I felt isolated in that way, I felt like my ideas weren’t valid because no one was talking about them or no one with a position of power was speaking to the things I was interested in speaking to. I left feeling deflated, and like my art didn’t have a place historically in the art world or the contemporary art world. It wasn’t until I went to grad school that I had people that were helping me to find language to articulate what I knew inside and what I live with as a person every day, by giving me the words to express that, not only in material but speaking to another person. Aspiring artists must believe in themselves, trust the process, challenge themselves, question everything, and be open to change.