To Kevin Claiborne, memory is the primary material of his work. Through a myriad of mediums, he offers new manners of looking at History – and especially of the Afro-American community’s History – but also of the links between this History and our present.
“The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organize chaos?” Romare Bearden
Kevin Claiborne lives and works in Harlem, and he graduated from the Visual Arts department of Columbia University. He explains “I seek to make the invisible visible”, thus strives to put the black community back at the forefront of the viewer’s consciousness.
In her essay “On Photography”, Susan Sontag compared the camera to a gun, both being as automated as possible. Furthermore, the author explains that taking a photograph is as easy a pulling the trigger of a gun. To Claiborne, his work is “both a social responsibility and a weapon allowing change”. His collages thus depict great figures in the history of the fight against racial segregation, and work as whistleblower on past situations that may very well still be relevant today. By having a critical eye on the past, he insists on invisible stories, by proving that what we do not see is sometimes more important than what is on the surface.
The palette used is restricted : black and white mainly. The space left to the void is also important, and allows us to reflect upon its use and function. The spaces left blank mean emptiness, absence or even the lack. This interpretation is full of sense in the artist’s creative process, as he seeks to make visible the place of absence in the Afro-American community’s History.
In the sixties, the Spiral group, formed with artists like Romare
Bearden and Hale Woodruff created various artistic proposals with a great stylistic variety, with the common goal of defending racial equality and the political implication of artists in the American Civil Right Movement. The African-American artist Romare Bearden worked with various mediums. He is especially famous for his collages, in which he mingles different elements of the afro-american culture such as ethical mask, thus resonating with Kevin Claiborne’s work.
The technique of collage saw its rise with Pop Art, Neo Dadaist or Appropriationism in the eighties, but its existence is much older, as it appeared as a proper technique under the impulsion of cubist artists around 1910. The dadaists, such as Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters or Max Ernst added a much more politicized content, which will inspire the late XXth artist. The collagists work the primary material of the image, and Kevin Claiborne is no exception to this dynamic. He cuts and assembles photographic fragments of masks, sculptures and artifacts from Western and Central Africa, as well as images found in his personal archives and books. For this series presented at sobering galerie, the american artist chose to talk about identity, police brutality and his familial ascendency. The assemblage of these various elements thus give a singular narrative, with a constant social critique. The photography work takes part in the “time-based media”, a form of artistic productions based on time and length. It allows Claiborne to play with the different perspectives of his era, but also on how these issues are dealt with through times, how they manifest and how they evolve. Moreover, Kevin Claiborne plays with language just as he played with images. By constructing and deconstructing sentences, he offers a new meaning to words.
«I like for my work to keep an open vision, it is not necessarily didactic by nature, but I at least hope that each piece could be a conversation on its own, or a conversation starter.» Kevin Claiborne