In conversation with Khaleb Brooks- Sunanda Mesquita for WE DEY
“Rememory: Ritual Blackness and Beyond” by Khaleb Brooks
14th of June – 30th of June 2018
We are excited to welcome Khaleb Brooks for a two weeks art residency & solo exhibition at WE DEY x SPACE.
Khaleb Brooks is a multi- media artist whose work is founded on research of ancestral knowledge and oral histories. Through painting, sculpture and photography Khaleb explores the role of memory in disrupting ideologies that maintain time as linear and fixed. By reviving ancestral cosmologies, creating assemblages of fragmented identities and engaging with generational trauma he seeks to re- imagine the notions of progress embedded in colonial and capitalist histories. The solo exhibition “Rememory: Ritual Blackness and Beyond” deals with thoughts and concepts of blackness as ritual and spaces of non- being as well as attempts to transcend these spaces.
30th of June 6pm -10pm
How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you or your art works yet?
I am a collector of found objects and forgotten information. Rusted metal and dry rotted wood, homemade zines, colonial maps, footage of laughter in the Andes, hand drums, rusted lunch boxes, Tibetan prayer flags, other people’s trash and outdated encyclopedias. They are not always straightforward or clear representations, but are stories. They are memories mapping histories, geographies and identities. They complicate time. This is what drives me. I have learned to listen a bit harder. To piece together not just what is said but to include cracked skin on tired hands and the glow of candles at midnight. I am determined to (re)document moments that have layers slowly peeling away, encompassing a variety of worlds yet to be seen. I am determined to not just capture them, but to let them speak for themselves.
I’m a black, transgender, AFAB, punk kid from the southside of Chicago. I’m an artist that doesn’t see my work as seperate from my politics. In Baldwin’s words, “The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.” My work is an attempt at an honest understanding of myself with hopes of contributing to a greater understanding of who we all are.
How would you position yourself in the art world? Do you feel any connection to current or past people or movements (also outside the art world)?
I’m an outsider when it comes to the art world. Which on one hand is a perk as I don’t have to aspire to be included in a canon that wasn’t meant for me in the first place. On the other hand the institutional support, or lack thereof, directly affects my ability to make work. I’m at a stalemate really, having to grapple with a market I’m not interested in just for my work to be undervalued. When it comes to movements, I’m most inspired by liberatory struggles, the Black Panthers, Zapatistas and Afrofuturism. And when it comes to people, writers such as Toni Morrison, Baldwin, Achille Mbembe, Fred Moten, Sadiyah Hartman and Yrsa Daley- Ward continue to affect my feelings about the world and my place in it. Artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Sun Mu, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ren Hang, Njideka Akunyili Crosby are my current inspirations and have laid the groundwork for any future success I may have.
Can you tell us more about the series you are going to exhibit at WE DEY x space and what interests you in showing your works in this specific context of WE DEY x SPACE in Vienna?
The works I’m exhibiting all have an underlying thread of ritual processes. They are ultimately concerned with blackness as ritual, spaces of non- being and attempting to transcend that space. Works from the Summoning Spirits series will be featured as well as a painting of writer and presenter Emma Dabiri and writer/ model Yrsa Daley- Ward. The painting of Emma Dabiri speaks to the complexities of black hair, as I attempt to exemplify both it’s beauty and political implications through a collage of materials. Hair, our attitudes toward it and the processes in which we attempt to tame it, let it free, style it, run from it and embrace it greatly influenced the piece. The work of Yrsa Daley- Ward, emerging storyteller and actress, is a recognition of how personal narratives in themselves can be a platform. How can the rituals that keep us alive, thriving and whole affect the lives of others? How do memories, collective memory, secrets and the seemingly mundane transform us? These are the questions writers like Yrsa are answering in their work, this is what I want to capture. The term ‘rememory’ in the title of the show is a direct reference Toni Morrison’s use of the word in her novel Beloved.
WE DEY x space is truly the first of its kind, in my lifetime at least. A collective and gallery space that specifically shows and supports Queer poc artists!? Who would have thought! And it is no coincidence that my second solo show, and first in a gallery, would be in this type of space. WEY DEY x is a space created by Queer/ Trans POC artists for Queer/ Trans POC artists. It is a safe space where I can show my work, get feedback and develop projects with like minded individuals. As someone who falls into the emerging artist category having a show in a space like this is ideal. I can engage with my practice without having to worry about institutional racism and transphobic perceptions.
What sparked your interest in reviving what has been forgotten- how do you link your art to ancestral memory and what outcomes do you imagine?
An interest in forgotten information was sparked by my own family. Secrets, fears, dreams and genealogies were a staple in my childhood. I’ll never forget when I learned the name Amos Taggert during a conversation with my grandmother about how she monitored my mum for schizophrenia. He was the Irishman that raped my great grandmother Rita Mae Bell when she was 13, and had my grandfather as a result. She is still alive, and has been in a mental institution since the 40s. And with that background and my grandmother’s mother who spent her life in a mental institution, she didn’t think my mother had a chance. Another example is the photograph I was show of my family on plantation steps. Or even the photograph of my third, maybe fourth great aunt, an ex slave wearing a fur coat. How’d she get that fur coat, I’d ask. Or how come this aunt is light and that ones not. And my grandmother would say, oh here’s another photo of the plantation owner (slave master), also your ancestor. The stories go on and on and got more scandalous and ridden with pain as I got older, some I can’t repeat, not yet.
Many people in the African diaspora don’t know their histories and even those that do, it’s more of an idea. These fragments, real and invented are my true medium and I’m still learning the best ways to convey their meanings. At the moment portraiture is the predominant way I attempt to make linkages between ancestral memory and art. None of us, and I speak particularly to black transgender folks, are new stand alone representations of ourselves. And through our faces and the faces of black folk in general I’m acknowledging a lost trajectory, forgotten ancestral knowledge and place our experiences within a context that isn’t just a manifestation of colonialism or even post- colonial discourse. African cosmologies have always included us and I’d just like to tell that story.
As part of your residency at WE DEY x space, we invited you to host an evening. Can you tell us more about what you have planned, who it is for and what are you imagining as a possible outcome?
I’ll be hosting two evenings in the space. One evening I’ll be screening a short documentary by long time friend and Intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, called The Son I Never Had. Afterwards Pidgeon will Skype in and we’ll have a discussion about their experiences, activism, and how art/ media affects their life and struggle for change. This is for everyone. When we discuss LGBTQ lives, we still forget the I for Intersex. I hope this creates greater understanding of that experience for everyone and help us understand what we as artists can do for our community.
I’ll also be hosting a comic book workshop where we discuss character development, storyboarding and the history of Queer and POC comics.