Mark Bradford is an artist in every technical and abstract sense. He is an embodiment of art, a producer, a creator, an eloquent and declarer of humanness and messiness. Hearing him speak on Friday October 24 at The Rose was one of the highest privileges I have had during my time at Brandeis. In many ways Bradford’s talk with Anita Hill and Chris Bedford went beyond the advertised subjects of Art, Blackness and the Diaspora.
Much of the talk surrounded the tension between physical and abstract, figurative and personal. Bradford discussed his upbringing as a black male in South Central Los Angeles during a time when “blackness” was becoming known as hip-hop, Ebonics and statistics. Bradford eloquently expressed that in 1997/8 when he graduated from art school, he was very aware he was black but wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Blackness was too figurative and because his identity felt this way he created abstraction as a counterpoint to the figurative. As Mark explained, “creative had a life,” and in having a life, his life, his works began to be and reflect his creative reality and his Black personhood. Bradford expressed that his art was his own radical political moment wherein he could look at the figurative of his own (and others’) identity and turn that figurative element into another conversation. Commenting on his abstractions he said, “I’m going to be black ‘til the day I die and it’s a social condition and it’s constantly shifting.”
What I found particularly beautiful and inspiring about Mark’s introspective and expressive quality of creative life was his ability to reflect and meditate on craft as a manifestation of interdisciplinary history. As an Anthropology and Creative Writing double major, witnessing such a humble and articulate artist connect the fields of social work, history, personhood and art was a great privilege. The way that he bridged the disciplines into a wholesome and powerful assertion of humans’ obligation to one another was very moving. The mood of the room, filled with professors, Rose Staff members, students and parents, felt grounded and organically connected, yet extremely diverse. The representatives of the African and Afro-American Studies department and student body, along with those in the field of Art History, Literature, Law and other disciplines unbeknownst to me, felt very close in both social presence and social goals. What I mean by this is that Bradford and Hill’s conversation embodied the ideals, the pitfalls, the realities, and the passions of the people in the room, and the people here at our university. It gives me great hope as an artist, a social science student, and a human being to see that interdisciplinary learning and embodiment can be as simple as Bradford speaking his truth. Of course, those who listen are important, for we recognize this embodiment, but to have the privilege of witnessing his interdisciplinary existence feels both abstract and heavily grounded. It feels as physical as his paintings and as complex as his humanness. It feels wholeheartedly poignant.
by Risa Dunbar, SCRAM member