Sunday, September 27, 2020

Take Two: WMAA 2019 , Mesa Verde

 Hello friends! I’m writing from the road on my rescheduled WMAA 2019 travels. Originally, I was supposed to be in my travels March/April, but the universe had other things in mind! Luckily, camping is fairly Covid-19 safe, so I am able to maintain distance from people and take good precautions with masks and hand washing as I am traveling.  

My original project was to travel the southwest to different national parks and natural areas to study the climate and landscape that is so much different than the one I call home in Minnesota. I am greatly inspired by how I, as a queer artist, fit into and process the world, and I use imagery inspired by the landscape to do that in my art practice. Much of it is about change, growth, cycles, and finding strength in personal identity. 

Even though my travels had to be rescheduled, there has been so much to learn and grow from in the world around us. A global pandemic, the Minneapolis uprising and subsequent protesting of police brutality across the nation, horrible wildfires, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing in a time of great political tension and unrest. I am sure I can speak for everyone that it has been overwhelming and exhausting. There has been so much change and examination of our personal roles in our communities, big and small. I am still examining this for myself, which I believe these travels will help influence in a meaningful and positive way. 

The full list of parks I’ll be visiting is Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Zion. (My last stop was supposed to be Sequoia National Forest, but that is closed due to the wild fires) I’m writing the first stop , Mesa Verde, which I’ll be heading out from tomorrow. This is where the ancestral Pueblo peoples lived from about 500 -1300 AD. Through this time period, these people changed from living in pit houses, to wood and stone dwellings on top of the mesas, to eventually building underneath them and farming the land on top. It’s so amazing to see the innovative architecture and using the mesas and natural rock face to create the most comfortable and well functioning living spaces in this climate. Eventually, the Ancestral Pueblo people’s migrated out of this immediate area. Most of us clay people know of Pueblo pottery, but this architectural record is breathtaking.

There is much to be learned from the indigenous peoples of North America! Past and present. 

Next stop: Petrified Forest!

-Elliot , they/them 

A photo of the Cliff Palace. There were various other cliff dwellings to see from afar, such as Spruce house and others.

A Pueblo Kiva. Kivas are still used in Pueblo tradition today.
A two room Pithouse
The remains of a cliff dwelling on the petroglyph point trail. 
A rendition of the petroglyphs on the trail. Was not sure about my role as a non Pueblo visitor and the significance of these so I am sharing a drawing from the guide instead.

Monday, April 13, 2020

WMAA 2019 Experimentation and Results

After the trip, I began thinking about what I wanted to make and how. I knew I did not want to continue the work I made in undergrad for various reasons. I wanted to challenge myself to pursue something different that did not rely so heavily on narratives or ideas of the past like I had mentioned in the Allensworth post. Below are pictures of work I made over the past 6 months, some more successful than others, but all a learning experience because I gave myself an opportunity to experiment with ideas regardless of what they looked like. This post will also show some process images I had taken along the way of testing. By the end of this post, you will see my most recent body of work I have led myself to after experimenting, playing and deeply considering my experience touring the various cities, museums and galleries.

This first piece is what I considered my transitional piece between what my undergraduate body of work looked like and what would potentially be next. I removed the vessel and created a sculptural form, and then decorated the surface with patterns, colors and figures. My imagery included more than the figure, and the pattern was not dominating the entire piece. I also included a ceramic three finger comb. The content of the piece was inspired by the lack of Black queer content I saw in these spaces devoted to African American experiences, lives and histories. It felt like a proclamation to the world that both identities matter to me. I enjoyed making the piece, but I immediately knew it was not what I wanted to do, so I went back to the drawing board and made this piece below.

This piece was based off of "strange fruit". I began to experiment with glazes, objects, surface and nails more. I underglaze painted actual fruit that is considered strange by a lot of people, and then over it I drew with an underglaze pencil a lynching and a police shooting on both sides. This is arguably the most political piece I have ever made. I am very vocal about my political and social beliefs, but I never considered making political work. As a result, it sort of made me uncomfortable because the art I aspired to create and gravitated towards during this trip were never this overtly political. I wanted to maintain that interest I gained during this trip, so I decided this was not a proper step for my work either. However, this was the start of my fixation on glaze application which was something I never did prior to this piece.

This piece was still considering the theme of strange fruit, but I thought maybe I needed to step away from figural/pictoral narratives and underglaze, so I can push my form more. There were a lot of things I enjoyed and learned from this piece, but it felt very busy. I also had the honor of getting a critique with Malcolm Mobutu Smith and he gave me wonderful feedback about my work, but the one thing he said to me that stood out was that not everything has to be on one piece. I did not fully understand him, but then I went through pictures I took of work during my summer trip and realized that none of my favorite works were "too busy" with symbolism like I had a habit of doing, and realized I needed to focus in on what I wanted my viewers to visually and intellectually engage with. The following works and in progress pictures of my recent body of work are a result of this long process of trial and error, and my summer travel research:

Through the days of testing glazes and forms and ideas, I finally decided that I wanted to make work that spoke about my Blackness in a way I have not seen it spoken about in art. I wanted to offer something new for myself and audience. I wanted my work to feel personal and private while also reflecting the publicness of myself and my Black identity. Black people and moisturizing products. Black hair, combs, picks, hair accessories like durags etc. are all easily linked to Black culture and identity which is why they are common tools for Black narratives in artmaking, but lotion is not something that is commonly seen as a "Black thing", because it isn't. However, Black folk are aware that our relationship with products like lotion are not emphasized the same way for others. For starters, if you aren't moisturized then you're ashy which means you are dusty, got dry skin, and can also mean you are ignorant, annoying or dumb. No one wants to be called or seen physically ashy, so we moisturize our skin constantly. We carry go to lotion bottles on us to school and work. "Ask the Black person first for lotion if you forget your's at home or run out." This somewhat intense but also intimate relationship we have with moisturizing products like lotion is what my work focuses on by combining a glaze I made to look like various lotions and petroleum jelly and a variety of comb styles. I also pair these with zoomorphic forms that take on identities themselves (Buffalo represents black men, Gazelle represents black women, Sheep represent black queer individuals and the Rabbit represents the general black folk regardless of gender and sexuality). I have always had an interest in historical pottery and sculpture forms and design aesthetics, so I strive to make my work have a sense of history and contemporary air to them. I do this through the forms and the use of nails representing the kongo power figures and christianity.

The cups pictured are all test cups that I practiced mark making with my lotion glaze. My next steps are taking an interest in how to apply the lotion glaze, and potentially creating abstract paintings with them like on the vessel standing on three combs. As I continue to explore the glaze and push myself I want to begin creating more sculptural and object based works with my clay and lotion glaze, as I continue to create these pottery forms. Below is a picture of me and a few pieces for your own personal amusement:

I would like to thank NCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to visit various museums and a historic site for an all black town. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to Oklahoma and participate in the all black town tour, but I was able to still gain so much valuable information from what I was able to engage with on my trip. I would not be making the work I am making now if I did not see countless of sculptural black artists working in such a concise and focused way. I have always had an issue of putting "too much into a piece", but having the pictures of work I got to see during my trip and look back on them and remind myself to be more focused and concise has been more helpful than I could ever put into words.

For anyone who wants to continue following my artistic journey as I continue to push my craft, I have an instagram account at
I also have a website:

Thank you for anyone who has taken the time to read these blogposts. I enjoyed being able to reflect on everything I saw over the summer as it helped me dig deeper into why I enjoyed the works I curated to be posted, and as a result helped me focus my own work. Hope yall stay blessed and are encouraged to follow me onmy journey over the years. Peace, love and happiness.

Monday, March 16, 2020

WMAA 2019 Allensworth

The last stop on my tour was Allensworth, CA. I am from Fresno, CA which is an hour away from Allensworth, and I had no clue Allensworth existed until I took a class called Blacks in the West where we learned about various all Black towns across the country. I made it a plan to visit some all Black towns. There was a missed opportunity that caused me to not be able to go to Oklahoma and visit the all Black towns there through a tour, but I was able to visit Allensworth. Though, Allensworth is no longer a functioning town and instead a national preserved park. It still has the buildings and informational history for folk who choose to visit to learn about what it was like to live in an all Black town like Allensworth.

This was on a wall of images in the office/waiting room. It reminded me of the work I made prior to this travel experience where I had a figure above a patterned background.

The people you'll see in the photos are some of my family. I was able to encourage some of my family members to visit Allensworth with me as an educational and family bonding time. The building behind them is the schoolhouse. We were unable to go inside because all the buildings were locked and are only opened for tour purposes (something we did not find out till we got there). 

A lot of open space and houses with a lot of space in between one another. They also had barns and gardens behind them. There were also some lots that were empty but had signs up letting you know there was a building there but no longer up. For example, one of the grocery stores was longer physically there, but the space where it was, was noted by a sign with information.

We were lucky enough to see inside the church because there was a tour happening and the tour guide gladly let us go inside the church to see what it looks like. (SPOILER: it looks like a church). Though I was very enthralled by the glass stained window from the inside. 

Various images of other buildings like the Barber shop and pictures through the window of what the inside looked like. I really liked the basket like patterns in the quilt on the bed, and the hardly visible ceramic pourer in a bowl? Possibly for hot water since the room appeared to be a bedroom. The last picture is my aunt and grandma on the patio of a house looking off into the open sky and land. They also performed an impromptu "olden days" anthem as they called it to tap into their roots. I forgot to save the video so I sadly can't share their humorous reenactment of what it would be like living in Allensworth.

The last picture is of the family members who came and I. Pictured are my aunt, cousin, mom, two younger sisters and grandmother. My mom, aunt and grandmother had been to Allensworth, but my cousin and two sisters did not know about it until I brought it up, so I am also happy I got to expose them to something new as I was also exposing myself to something new. Though this trip to Allensworth did not supply me with what I was hoping for, it did help me reconsider what approach I want for my work. Prior to this trip I wanted to create work that tapped into history as the narrative, but after visiting Allensworth and considering everything I saw in Richmond, DC and Philadelphia; I thought that my work should be more personal and about experiences I understand or ones that are closely related to experiences I have had. Basically I did not want my work's source material to be the past, but the present. And how to make my work feel more present and not feel "outdated", was the next question.

WMAA 2019 Philadelphia

Philadelphia was full of contemporary artists I did not know about prior to the travel. Philadelphia has also became one of my favorite spots for art viewing with the wide variety of artwork and artists I got to see. In comparison to the amount of historical information and work I saw, it felt rather refreshing to see contemporary Black artists' work.

My first stop was the African American museum of Philadelphia. Above is Sonya Clark's works that were present. Seeing objects and materials that are relevant to Black identity used in various ways was interesting to see, and reminded me of the piece by Kenya Robinson at the NMAAHC in DC. This was also the first time I was introduced to Sonya Clark.

The paintings and installations above are by Fahamu Pecou. Another artists I was introduced to at the African American museum. His work combines AA Hip-Hop culture, Black masculinity and Nigerian traditions. The work serves as both a cultural and political tool which I thought was nice because one could easily not be aware of the political message displayed within the work like the names of the Black folk murdered by the hands of cops. 

What I enjoy about both artists' work is their use of relevant material with Sonya using combs and Fahamu using cowrie shells.

As I was walking around the neighboring community, I found a gallery that was exhibiting Roberto Lugo's work. I never got to see his work in person so I was excited to have the chance to examine his work up close.

As I was walking around, I also found a Wood museum that was showcasing the work of Damien Davis, who is a Black queer artist. I almost missed out on this exhibit because I told myself I do not have an interest in wood, but then quickly convinced myself to go into the museum, and to my surprise I learned about an amazing artist who is both Black and queer like me. His use of symbols to create different narratives based on Black culture and experiences in the United States were quite interesting tagged along with color compositions. 

I went to go see their storage display. Though I dont know the context of this piece, it reminds me of the nkisi nkondi figures that I mentioned in the African Art museum.

For my last day in Philadelphia, I spent time with a good friend of mine Gerald Brown (one half of the creators of TheClaySiblings check them out here: We went to a textile museum that had a solo show from Sonya Clark who I had just learned about two days prior to the textile museum visit. The work and experience there was simplistic but very impactful. Probably one of the more impactful moments I have had during this entire travel experience. The work was about the surrender flag of the Confederate, and how it's relevance should be more prevelant in our history rather than the Confederate flag because the Confederate flag symbolizes the racist ideology while the surrender flag would naturally represent the opposite. There was also a station where you could participate in the making of a surrender flag with one of the looms (I had a video of myself working on the loom, but lost it). Gerald is in the last picture looking at the remains of what was washed from the floor during the performance piece pictured in the image next to it.

In terms of impact on me as an artist, I would say this experience in Philadelphia has a lot of impact on what I trialed towards my most recent body of work. Though this is not to say that my other travel stops do not have any impact on where I ended up with my work as well. However being exposed to various contemporary sculptural/installation Black artists that speak on Black culture and experiences in various ways did a lot of resonating and internalized critical thinking for me.