Andrew Boyle

8 Stories


YAA GYASI

"HOMEGOING"

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Yaa Gyasi’s debut book and New York Times bestseller, “Homegoing,” (Penguin Random House), traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, “Homegoing” makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

 

Directly following her discussion with visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola at NeueHouse Madison Square, Gyasi sat down with NeueHouse member, Larry Ossei-Mensah, to share further insight into her world and the world of “Homegoing” including, putting a name to the lost faces in history, her fascination with Yaa Asantewaa, and her mantra in life.

 

Larry Ossei-Mensah: You were born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. Did the juxtaposition of your upbringing influence the initial storyline for Homegoing? If so, why?

 

Yaa Gyasi: The juxtaposition is really what Homegoing is all about. It’s about putting these two worlds, Ghana and America, against one another. It’s about having them in conversation with one another to inform each other and look at all of the ways that we became separated between Ghanaian and African American culture. It’s also the way that we connect the two. I think it’s everything.

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LOM: Homegoing is your debut book. What was the curation process like when creating a compilatory book that focuses on several different centuries at a time? How did you decide what particular periods to focus on and what to not focus on?

 

YG: I knew that I wanted this book to cover a long period of time, to start in the 18th century and end in the present. As I was writing, I was thinking about different moments in history that might be nice to have pit stops in and some of those moments include the advent of cocoa farming in Ghana or the Fugitive Slave Act in America. Once I figured out the places that I was interested in exploring, I would structure the novel so I could stop at these places and let people see what life in that time and place might have been like.

 

LOM: You mentioned that each of the characters taught you something as you were going through the process of writing. What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from writing this book?

 

YG: The most significant thing I’ve learned is that it is important that we see people as individuals. It is imperative that we recognize the people who faced these extreme circumstances by speaking their name and not allowing them to become part of this nameless, faceless mass. It’s important to draw out individual stories, so that we can see the people who were thrust into these circumstances are just like us with the same kinds of hopes, fears, and dreams that we have for ourselves.

 

LOM: Was it difficult to come face to face with the horrific realities that you discovered through your research when writing the book?

 

YG: It was really difficult. Some of the moments in this book are really traumatic. I felt how traumatic it was for me to research it and write it, and, of course, it was ten-fold more traumatic for the people who were going through it. I felt like I had a responsibility to them, to these characters, and to the people that they represent from our reality to tell their stories and to talk about them.

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LOM: I read that reading and writing was your best friend growing up. How would you describe your writing style now, particularly working on the next project? What do you keep from Homegoing and what do you let go of?

 

YG: From Homegoing, I will always keep this privileging of storytelling over some of the other things that writers sometimes privilege. It’s important to me that you tell a good story as well as learn something and write beautiful prose, but it’s important to me that people enjoy the story that they are reading and so, I will take that with me to the next book.

 

LOM: When you were writing the book, was that something you were constantly thinking about in terms of these parallels between the past and present? Many of the characters dealt with a variety of issues such as how people of color engage with the police, people in uniform, familial  relationships, loving each other, and loving themselves. Was that something you were consciously thinking about when writing the book?

 

YG: Yes. I was thinking about all of that. What we inherit–physical inherencies and emotional inherencies, these scars that we carry with us from these decisions our ancestors made, from the decisions that our governments make–it impacts our life in a very real way.

 

I was also thinking about repetition, these moments in history that come back and the ways we can recognize them. In Kojo’s chapter, when he makes his children present their free papers to him, that kind of looks a lot like the way black parents talk to their kids today about interacting with the police. So these moments that I think have a rhyme and this repetition to them, I wanted to bring them out.

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LOM: If you could live in any other period in time, thinking about the generations that this story spans, when would it be?

 

YG: You know, a lot of these periods, it’s hard to be black and a woman, so I don’t know if I would want to go back to any of the times that I write about. If anything, I would want to go forward. So, the future.

 

LOM: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

YG: I don’t know if I identify with her most, but I am so fascinated by Yaa Asantewaa who I write about in one of these chapters. Just the fact that she rallied her people against the British in this major war –she’s our Ghanaian Joan of Arc, yet so many people don’t know her story. It was great for me to be able to write about her.

 

LOM: What do you want readers to walk away from after they’ve read your book?

 

YG: I want readers to recognize that a lot of things we are dealing with in the present today, they have a precedent, they’ve come from these other historical moments. This current political climate didn’t appear out of thin air. It was built and we can see exactly how it was built. I want this book to kind of connect this present to our history.

 

LOM: Which living person do you most admire?

 

YG: I suppose I would go to some of my writing heroes. Toni Morrison has to be one of them.

 

LOM: What is your mantra in life?

 

YG: Be kind.

 

Credits:

Larry Ossei-Mensah is a Ghanaian-American independent curator and cultural critic who has documented contemporary art happenings for various publications including Uptown and Whitewall Magazine. Ossei-Mensah is also the Co-Founder of ARTNOIR, a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class. ARTNOIR serves as a tangible extension of Ossei-Mensah’s curatorial vision of “bridging cultural gaps” through the power of art.

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

nora chipaumire

The Language of a Body

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nora chipaumire enters the room at ROOT Studios, and immediately commands it. The dancer, who was born in Mutare, Zimbabwe and who currently resides in Brooklyn, met with us a few days ahead of her performance at NeueHouse Madison Square, where she displayed her explorations and challenges of the stereotype of the black performing body. Pulling out beautiful artisanal clothing pieces from a woven bag, including a coat made from prayer rugs, chipaumire’s preparation is a reflection of her as an artist who takes every aspect into consideration. Once in front of photographer Andrew Boyle’s camera, with warm music loudly playing, the powerhouse talent showed us the language of a body and proved why she is such a necessary figure in the world of dance today.

 

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Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal
Hair & Makeup: Campbell Ritchie @ Art Department
Special Thanks to ROOT Studios 

Anna Rose Holmer

The Fits' Directorial Debut

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The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer’s directorial debut and one of the films that comprises the New Directors/New Films Festival, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the MoMA, takes the universal theme of the confusions of growing up and reinterprets them by adding a psychological twist. Revolving around the young character Toni, who is trying to find her place between the world of boxing and an organized dance crew, The Fits’ harrowing complications of identity, combined with an unexplainable fit spell that takes over everyone in the dance crew save for Toni, elicits the teenage complexities of trying to find oneself. Ahead of the film’s festival release, the writer and director sat down with us to discuss using sound as dialogue, providing diversity in the writing room, and the creative influence of Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

NeueJournal: What is the driving force behind The Fits and what propelled you to explore this story?

 

Anna Rose Holmer: The driving force behind the film has always been about the subconscious choreographies we perform on a daily basis. I really saw adolescence as a culmination of that; the body mirroring and intuitive ways in which we move our body towards each other. For me it was really grounded in physical action. Looking to other girls’ bodies to define my body as an adolescent was something I finally started to understand as a 30 year old, so that’s always been the theme: how to make an unconventional dance film about adolescence and how to focus on a coming of age story that wasn’t about sexual identity but more just about identity.

 

NJ: This film marks your directorial debut. What was the most challenging aspect of it and what has been your favorite part?

 

ARH: Transitioning into directing, coming from both producing and camera work, was definitely the most emotionally vulnerable I’ve felt. You really have to be open. and you cannot ask others to give without first giving yourself, especially when you are working with kids. I felt I had to be this open book. It is a big challenge to remain really vulnerable throughout the whole process, especially with everyone witnessing that vulnerability on set, which was definitely the most challenging part. The most rewarding has been how much I’ve grown as a collaborator. As a director you cannot carry the film by yourself, you have to lean into your collaborators and I’ve grown so much through my relationships with my two co-writers; Lisa Kjerulff and Saela Davis, as well as my DP Paul Yee, our lead Royalty Hightower, Marquicia Jones-Woods and the Q-Kidz, and really the entire crew. I felt I learned a lot about myself and what type of leader I wanted to be because they were showing me what they needed along the way. I definitely feel like directing is the most articulate I’ve felt in any role in film so hopefully I get to keep doing it.

 

NJ: Sound plays an important role in this film. Why did you decide to say more with action and sound than with dialogue?

 

ARH: So much of how I communicate isn’t through words, and we use soundscape and the score to really be our lead Toni’s voice. We needed to give her a space to speak directly to the audience without that being on dialogue, so we used sound design to heighten her isolation, her sense of foreboding, and her internal struggle. We used the score to give the audience a clue about the quiet discomfort that is building, so that by the time the fits enter into the film you are almost prepared for them, since Toni feels out of place from the very beginning.

 

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Photo courtesy of The Fits

 

NJ: The theme of inclusion and diversity in the film industry is as prevalent now as it’s ever been. Is this something that you actively thought about when creating this film?

 

ARH: I co-wrote this film with two other women, and we are all from different backgrounds, so in the writer’s room we were all bringing different ideas about female identity, cultural backgrounds, and story aesthetics to the writing process, which I think bloomed on screen in this really beautiful way. Our crew was so generous and so giving, but in order for that to work the environment needs to be inclusive, which a really deep philosophy for us – every person who was part of this process had a voice that was valued.

 

NJ: What three films have had a significant impact on the exploration of your personal craft?

 

ARH: The first film I ever saw that made me want to be a filmmaker is a documentary called Streetwise, by Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark. Mary Ellen was really my lens into the world of film; I really wanted to be a Director of Photography so that was the first film that sparked this idea that you could tell a story, not just in a single frame like photography, but in a moving elaborate world. Au Hasard Balthazar, by Robert Bresson, is a film that really marked formal language, and Mad Max: Fury Road reignited a spark in me of pure love of cinema and kinetic storytelling. When I think about that film I get so excited to continue to make work.

 

NJ: What did you care most about when you were 10 years old?

 

ARH: My big brother was a big influence for me, he is four years older. I actually mirrored a lot of the relationship between Toni and Jermaine on my relationship with my older brother, Sam. I looked up to him and I thought he was the whole world, but there came a point when I realized I didn’t want to be exactly like him, that my identity was going to go down another path. But I loved playing in the woods with him, and building worlds, building forts, exploring. I cared a lot about my brother.

 

NJ: What is your motto?

 

ARH: “Why are the rules the rules?”

 

NJ: How would you describe the color green to a blind person?

 

ARH: Green is my favorite color because green for me is like the taste of the freshest herbs or lettuce coming out of the ground. I think about spring, I think about rebirth and growth. I think green smells like just after it’s rained and you can feel the ground seeping up those nutrients.

 

NJ: What do you think happens when we die?

 

ARH: I think some people make work so that after they die their work can live on in immortality, but I’ve been trying to practice releasing that idea of ego. It’s really hard when you create work to kind of erase that idea of yourself and that barrier, but I think that maybe in death that barrier is totally erased. But I have no idea.

 

NJ: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

 

ARH: I am learning, more and more, not to ask for permission and that you don’t need somebody else’s permission to make work. Particularly as a woman in this industry you have to speak up for yourself, because no one else is gonna advocate for you on your behalf. Obedience or silence as a virtue has its place, but also asking for what you want and what you need is valuable.

 

Portrait Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Tony Stone

New Directors/New Films Festival Debut

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In a modern world that relies so heavily on efficacy and instantaneous results, it’s always surprising to learn not everyone adheres to the fast-paced rules of the metropolis. Tony Stone’s first documentary, ‘Peter and the Farm’, explores the intimate life and work of Peter Dunning, a Vermont farmer who has spent over four decades tending to the land and living by the rules of agri-cycles. However, although the film showcases the working life of Dunning, the cameras also capture an exploration of humanity, isolation, and the markers of life, as Dunning delves into meditations of his personal history, from his family choosing not to see him anymore, to his numbing drinking. Ahead of ‘Peter and the Farm’s’ release at the New Directors/New Films festival, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the MoMA, Stone presented the film and its subject matter at NeueHouse Madison Square, where he sat down with us to discuss his anti-hero, and his foray into the documentary world of filmmaking.

 

NeueJournal: How did you first hear about Peter Dunning and what interested you in telling his story?

 

Tony Stone: I first met Peter Dunning when I was about eight or nine years old at a Farmers Market in Vermont. My parents had a connection to him as they were both artists, and I developed my own relationship with him over the years. I actually put Peter in a movie where he played an 1800s logger, so he was very apropos for the role. He ended up being cut out of the film, but I developed my own rapport with him, due to his charismatic spirit and his sort of performative nature. Although I’ve known him for over 25 years, I didn’t go to the farm until he invited my wife and I a few years ago. We were struck by the beauty of it and by its whole operation.

 

Peter is sort of this fading spirit. There aren’t many people like him and of that specific generation, so it felt like there was a need or urgency to document his world before it may collapse. Farming is such a Sisyphean undertaking, but what he had built was so magical and amazing, so we were drawn to the farm and wanted to have a reason to film there. Being a narrative filmmaker, I felt that documentary kind of lacked the visual and experiential qualities that I wanted to pursue since they are usually comprised of sit down interviews. I wanted to visually translate the farm and experientially translate Peter’s micro-world, which is why the title is Peter and the Farm, since it represents the experience and duality of the man and his setting.

 

NJ: What do you want the takeaway of the film to be, and is there a universality to the story that you’re hoping will translate into some sort of action?

 

TS: I would say to keep the film open-ended, where you wonder what is happening and where it leaves off and whether there is a mythological aspect to it. To ask yourself, is this cyclical? Is Peter, this sort of biblical character, still on the farm? I would also like people to ponder, what is sustainability? There’s a point where your self-sustainability can no longer go on.

 

There’s no specific takeaway, but for me, farmers are obviously heroic. There’s a challenge with working based on the repetition of cycles and years that is just absolutely admirable. I’m in awe of the dedication farmers have to the work and the land. Everybody has their own experience of dealing with characters like Peter in their life, whether it’s a father, an uncle, or whoever, which enables you to relate to certain parts of Peter. Obviously, a farmer would have one view of the film, as opposed to somebody in the city, who would have a different view. It’s interesting in that dialogue too.

 

NJ: What has been the starkest difference in filming this largely isolated subject matter as opposed to other projects you’ve worked on?

 

TS: There’s obviously a difference between narrative and documentaries. Narrative is total self-creation that could start with the director or producer and then unfold from there, but it’s created out of a concept and then built around that. What’s interesting with documentaries is that your subject is everything. We jumped into Peter’s world, and it’s amazing to be at the mercy of his day to day activities – you also sort of wanted to step away and let him lead. He was such a collaborator who had his own ideas, but then our camera brought its own tension and its own reality. We worked mostly with a single camera, which actually reduced options. It’s such a balance trying to show the spectrum of the character without trying to say too much. In a way, I kind of looked at it as if we were editors of Peter’s material, which is so theatrical and sounds, in a way, prewritten because he’s told his stories so many times. By having Peter also film we wanted to remove ourselves so that things could unfold naturally, uninterruptedly, and spontaneously.

 

NJ: How did your childhood affect your decision to become a filmmaker?

 

TS: I spent nine months of the year in New York City and the remaining three months in Vermont. So having context for each of these worlds, I was able to look at them and their different eyes and become aware that my surroundings have different patterns. When I was in Vermont, I was running around, making forts, starting fires, and letting my childhood imagination run wild. In a way the scenarios we create as children is its own form of filmmaking.

 

But also being in New York and going to a high school that had a film department, as well as being exposed at a really young age to so much culture, and movies, and places like the Film Forum, was huge. It became more of an innate language, which stemmed from the cultural exposure combined with the circumstance of living in these dual environments.

 

NJ: How would you describe the current state of the world in three words?

 

TS: Suicidal, solipsistic, and numb.

 

NJ: When is the last time you cried?

 

TS: Recently, talking about Peter and his current predicament.

 

NJ: What is your current state of mind?

 

TS: I guess excited, but fraught.

 

NJ: If you could have witnessed any historical event, which would it be?

 

TS: There are so many. It would be interesting to witness something like World War I, but the extent of it and the carnage was so horrific, which would make me want to see more celebratory occasions of humanity. Discoveries are a always incredible, and one thing I love about that is you would require a return trip, otherwise you don’t realize that it’s a discovery.

 

NJ: Who do you most admire?

 

TS: Peter Steele (laughs). It’s kind of an inside joke.

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Sarah Howe

The T.S. Eliot Prize Winning Poet on the Pursuit of Identity

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Sarah Howe’s voice is as delicate and harmonious as her poetry,  a thought that becomes increasingly apparent throughout our talk. Howe, a British-Chinese writer who has been published in a number of anthologies, including three editions of The Best British Poetry, as well as well as being a recent recipient of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2015, is inspiringly smart – a testament which is proven not only in her writings, but in her eloquent conversation, ranging from Shakespeare to The Walking Dead. Ahead of her reading at NeueHouse Madison Square, an event co-hosted with The White Review, where she was joined by fellow poets Jorie Graham and Matvei Yankelevich, Howe sat down to talk about the pursuit of home and identity, the responsibility of representation, and working out her fascinations under the radar.

 

NeueJournal: Loop of Jade is your first collection. What is the curating process like when creating a compilatory book of your work?

 

Sarah Howe: It was very much a process of learning slowly, and somewhat surprisingly, what the range of my obsessions was. Discovering what it was that I’ve done over the last ten years of writing poems was actually quite a fun process, and it was a matter of learning which sets of poems seemed to need to speak to each other. There are lots of different strands running through the book, one of which is China and travel, another of which is art, and another of which is England. I was trying to bring those things together and knit them into some sort of satisfying order.

 

NJ: I’m glad you bring that up, because your work, at large, deals a lot with the meditation of being bicultural. What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from this exploration?

 

SH: The book was almost an attempt for me to answer the question, “who am I?” What emerged was a real hybrid of miscellaneous things. What I discovered about myself in the process was just how fluid and up for grabs something like identity is, but at the same time how much we, as individuals, are shaped by history and the cultures we live in – almost to a sort of oppressive degree, sometimes. So, history actually became a really big part of what the book was thinking about. My history, China’s history, my mother’s somewhat traumatic personal history – it was all an effort to sort of make sense of that and not be buried by it.

 

NJ: Is it difficult when you come face to face with realities you haven’t explored before?

 

SH: I had the experience, which I imagine is not uncommon, of having had an upbringing that was utterly different to that of my parents. I was always conscious that I had a great deal of privilege and safety and security, which neither of my parents, particular my mom, had enjoyed. I guess this is the way of inter-generational narratives, isn’t it? That one generation has to think about what it wants to pass on to the next, because that transfer is a meaningful one in the way culture happens.

 

The book, with its gaps and elliptical looping, reflects just what a broken and fragmented process it was for me to learn about my family origins, and what I discovered, as well, was there was a point beyond which I just couldn’t go. I can’t know anything about my Chinese family beyond my mom, and that was a big void, which I felt I needed to fill in some way. What the book does with Chinese history and myth was sort of an attempt to find some other connection with that place.

 

NJ: Poetry is such a beautiful art, but it feels like nowadays it’s the most devalued artform. Why do you think we forgot to nurture this relationship to poetry?

 

SH: I think that’s a lovely and quite accurate way of putting it, that we forgot about the historical and powerful relationship we used to have with poetry in our culture. It’s a sort of paradox, though, isn’t it? Just in demographic statistical terms, there must be such a larger percentage of people reading and writing poems now than ever before, solely because of literacy and education. And yet, it does feel very marginal in the culture, or at least in an economic sense. But actually, I find that quite liberating myself, as a poet; that you’re not under the same scrutiny, maybe, as artists working in art forms that enjoy a bigger share of the limelight. I feel like I’m allowed to work out my own fascinations under the radar.

 

NJ: You quite often deal with history and mythology as means to explore your work. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

SH: The person I have in mind is the modernist poet, Ezra Pound, who I found I kept going back to again and again, partly because as a Chinese poet writing in English you just can’t escape his legacy. He sort of created the idiom that we might think of as, in inverted commas, “translating Chinese to English.” And yet, in so many ways, he was an absolutely abhorrent, racist, fascist person. So, it’s not so much that I identify with Pound, it’s that I had to make some sort of effort to identify with him in order to think through his legacy.

 

NJ: Rebecca Solnit wrote a list of books no woman should read, which included Ernest Hemingway, who is a big staple of modern literature. I realized I hadn’t really considered the effect that his blatant misogyny can have on younger writers, especially female ones. The way we have conversations with these larger than life artists, and how we approach them, is interesting because it leads to the question, can you separate a person from their work?

 

SH: That whole debate is one that really interests me, because it’s about the ethics of writing and reading. I think it’s sort of related to the question of role models in literature, whether we need to have certain sorts of diversity in terms of the characters we encounter in our imaginative lives. Which, given my interest in race and identity and representation, is something I find myself thinking about. But then again, I think it would be a sad world if I felt like the only writers I could learn from were female poets of color, which brings me back to the question of empathy. I think we have to foster empathy on one end as writers, and on the other end as readers.

 

NJ: What is your favorite word?

 

SH: I absolutely love words and their texture and their history, so I think my favorite word probably changes on an hour-to-hour basis, but I have a special fondness and weakness for dead-end words in the evolutionary line. In the 16th century, they used to say “yesternight” but we only have a “yesterday” now, so I’m quite fond of ones that died a death for no apparent reason.

 

NJ: You’re relocating to the moon and you can only bring three things. What are they?

 

SH: A complete Shakespeare, a violin, in the forlorn hope that I might be able to learn how to play it one day, and is it okay to say a Netflix subscription? (laughs) I’m currently halfway through binging on The Walking Dead. I think I would be very sad to go to the moon before I found out what happened.

 

NJ: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the pursuit of poetry and writing as profession?

 

SH: I feel like as an ethnic minority writer, you face a different set of challenges to your peers of the dominant culture, as it were. This is something that has become very clear to me recently, that it’s just a very charged area in which to be working at the moment. There’s a sense in which whatever you do will always be colored by the idea that you have to serve as a spokesperson for the group you belong to. That burden is one that I want to be able to step up to, but it’s also a responsibility that I also sometimes feel I shouldn’t have to shoulder. I guess it’s especially acute for me, because there are so few Chinese poets writing and being published in Britain. I feel like some of the scrutiny that my work receives is much too colored by this sense of novelty, that I’m the first one to stick the head above the parapet.

 

NJ: Do you ever feel you’ve been hindered by thinking too much about the audience, instead of the reasons why you’re creating work?

 

SH: I think this question of the audience hovering in your mind as you write is an important one for all poets, and it’s one that shifts in and out of focus for me. I believe at some point you have to think, “What will another reader make of this?” I do write with an audience in mind; I do care about the world that my poems go out into. I’m not going to make any big hyperbolic claims, but the world is changed when voices that have traditionally never been heard before suddenly start to.

 

NJ: If you could live in any other point in time, when would it be?

 

SH: My day job is as an academic working on Renaissance literature, so I would definitely choose to live during Shakespeare’s heyday.

 

NJ: There’s a conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn’t actually exist. What do you think?

 

SH: I personally don’t care that much either way, because I’m not a big one for biographical speculation about the lives of authors. But I actually find the conspiracy theory phenomenon around Shakespeare absolutely fascinating as a phenomenon. It has so much to do with conspiracy theory as a psychological need.

 

NJ: What do you think happens when we die?

 

SH: I suppose this doesn’t really impinge on my poems or writings very much, but I’m a very staunch Atheist, so I believe that nothing happens to us after we die, or at least the conscious parts of ourselves. But I don’t find that particularly depressing or nihilistic, either – it’s pretty liberating.

 

Portrait Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Artwork: Pablo Thecuadro for NeueJournal

Hank Willis Thomas

The Commonality of Being Human

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Multidisciplinary artist Hank Willis Thomas has swiftly become a prominent figure of the art world with conceptual pieces ranging from photographs, videos, installations, sculptures, and mixed media – all of which are concerned with igniting conversation. While each piece can stand alone, the power of Willis Thomas’ work is the unifying motif found in his repertoire, which deals with identity, history, and popular culture. We sat down with the artist to discuss the constructions of race, Donald Trump, and the commonality of being human.

 

NeueJournal: A great deal of your work explores the relationship between demonization and fetishization of African American athletes. Why do you think this is the pervasive attitude in society?

 

Hank Willis Thomas: I think much of the success of the United States is based off of its ability to convince the population that certain people belong in certain places, and then keeping them people in those places. One could argue that the myth of the black male body as seen in American culture is our greatest export. We’ve seen demonization and the fetishization on a global scale, and I think that it’s as true today as it was 500 years ago.

 

NJ: Has the demonization of African Americans assumed a different form?

 

HWT: I don’t believe in race; “blackness” is a social construct and “whiteness” is the ultimate social construct. I’m more fascinated with this notion of “whiteness” than I am “blackness”. For instance my last project is called Unbranded: a Century of White Women; part of what I’m exploring is how 100 years ago a lot of the people that we call white today would not have been considered white – Spanish, Irish, Russian, Polish, German, Italian. Somehow over the course of the past century these people have moved into the trope of “whiteness,” which is really in a lot of ways attached to not taking accountability for humanity since you can assimilate into this non-identity, which becomes the dominant identity. “Blackness” is the contrast to it. The crazy thing about black people is that we didn’t create “blackness;” Europeans with commercial interest created it, because in order to turn human beings into property you had to make them non-human. I believe that race is the most successful advertising campaign of all time.

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Winter in America, 2006 4:59 min video Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

NJ: Do you think this is still prevalent today?

 

HWT: Yes. If you go to any African or South American or Nordic culture you will find that there are always people who are seen as “others,” which allows us to be better. The idea of “Americanness” is very closely associated with this idea of “whiteness.”

 

NJ: Is this unique to America?

 

HWT: The idea of American exceptionalism is pervasive in that if you identify as an American you likely have at some point drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the idea that we are better than everyone else. Even if you go somewhere without the intention, it’s still there deep down inside.

 

NJ: Your work is very raw and direct, addressing socio-political, historical, and racial issues head on. What is the intention of your work?

 

HWT: I think the take away I would like is pretty simple, and it’s inspired by a James Baldwin quote – “A person is more important than anything else.” That is the bottom line.

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Hank Willis Thomas, Haters gon’ hate, 1960/2015. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York]

NJ: You work with different types of mediums. When creating a piece, how do you choose which would be the best medium to represent your intention or craft? Does your initial creative process change with each medium?

 

HWT: In a lot of ways the medium defines the piece. I think the reason I work in a lot of different mediums is because as an African American I’m often prejudged and deduced before I even enter a room. I think frequently, subconsciously, I’m trying to show that diversity exists within me so I don’t want to be relegated to a simple way of working or a simple predictive way of being seen as a person.

 

NJ: If you could have been present in any impactful moment in history, which would it be and why? Would you try to alter it?

 

HWT: There is no time like the present and I might as well try to impact it in the best way possible. The beauty of being a visual artist is that my job is to wake up every day and make my dreams come true. We are living in an age of greater collective consciousness because of the Internet and technology. You can put something in the world and you may not be able to see the direct response or benefit or influence of your own work, but it’s there, and I think we all come to new levels of awakeness every moment. If you pay attention closely you often find that ideas like the ones we are talking about were ignited in conversation with artists and visual artists a decade before. So we are changing tomorrow today.

 

NJ: What is the first memory you have of art?

 

HWT: My mother is a curator and photo/art historian so I grew up in a house with several photographs of people whom I don’t have any personal relationship to. So I had to ask myself, ‘who is that person? What is the scenario?’ and it lead me to ask questions about photography beyond the utility of just reporting a moment, to think about how you could say something, make an impact, or shed light on new stories throughout photography.

 

NJ: If you could speak any language fluently, which one would it be and why?

 

HWT: That’s a tough one, but there is a language spoken in South Africa that I can barely pronounce called Xhosa, which has these clicks in it. I think the beauty of learning other languages is that it is also another way of thinking and communicating. You all of a sudden have to adjust your mind.

 

NJ: What is the last film you watched that made you cry?

 

HWT: A documentary called 5 Broken Cameras, from the perspective of a Palestinian filmmaker of the border. It made me very upset. There is a level of helplessness. When people are so divided they stop being able to see the full humanity of one another and what they have in common, and instead see only what separates them. Everything is more grey than it is black and white, and accepting that you have to evolve is the only way that any species can survive.

 

NJ: The current presidential election is perhaps one of the most momentous ones in recent times. Who do you want to win?

 

HWT: I appreciate Hilary Clinton and I appreciate Bernie Sanders, but the beauty of president Trump is that we actually get to watch the empire fall. If he is president it’s gonna be exciting. We will literally watch it go down tubes and it will be a fun ride. He is charismatic and funny…so was Hitler. You prey on people’s insecurities and build them up to make them feel like they are better than other people. Trump romanticizes going back to a time when ‘America was great.’ When was it great? In the 80s for crack heads? Or when AIDS hit? Which part? That is what Hitler did after WWI; it is literally the same script.

 

NJ: What do you think the world will look like in one hundred years?

 

HWT: Nina Simone wrote a song called ‘22nd Century’ in 1972. In it she sings about what happens when we reach the user limits of humanity. Because we want to live forever, we want ultimate expression, we want ultimate consumption…we become cyborgs. Once we have everything we want, will we have a reason to live at all?

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal 

Joe Doucet

Illustrations with a Renaissance Man

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It’s always a breath of fresh air when a fashion staple that’s been around for centuries gets a reboot that manages to feel like a new piece altogether. Cue Joe Doucet x Thursday Finest, the recent collaboration between the design prodigy from Texas and the eco-friendly commission-based menswear brand. Using a design that Doucet meant to allude to the classicism of tie clips, the pairing has created 3D-knitted ties that not only look good, but feel good for Mother Nature too. Fresh off the heels of the collaboration, we asked the multidisciplinary artist to draw – not tell – a little bit about himself.

 

NeueJournal: Where are you right now and what do you look like?

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JD: Self portrait.

 

NJ: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

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JD: I had a strong desire to be in the Ninjistic Arts

 

NJ: What do you think humans will look like in 2116?

 

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JD: Augmented brains with robotically enhanced bodies, or possibly just a bit fatter and lazier than we are now

 

NJ: What is your biggest vice?

 

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JD: Although I’m no longer a smoker, I can’t seem to resist a cheeky one now and again

 

NJ: You’re relocating to the moon and you can only bring three things. What are they?

 

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JD: TP, great wine and a ride home

 

NJ: What does your ideal place to live in look like?

 

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JD: Not much in it. A great chair and epic views

 

NJ: Who is your biggest inspiration?

 

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JD: “Give me three hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first two sharpening my axe” Is one of my favorite and oft quoted sayings.

 

NJ: What do you think you’ll look like in fifteen years?

 

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JD: A bit closer to this than I am now.

 

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJouranl 

A Look Back
at NYFW

Jeremy Scott, Chromat, Cushnie et Ochs, & More

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There’s a specific sort of energy that charges the city during New York Fashion Week. It’s an electricity that comes as fast as it goes. So, today, with a few weeks retrospect, we’re looking back at the sights and visuals that defined this year’s NYFW, and the many Spring/Summer 2016 Collections. Photographer Andrew Boyle went behind the scenes, capturing designs by Jeremy Scott, The Blonds, Chromat, Cushnie et Ochs, Baja East, Gypsy Sport, Parsons BFA runway and many more

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Chromat

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LEFT: Parsons BFA | RIGHT: Cushnie et Ochs

 

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Baja East

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Baja East

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The Blonds

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle courtesy of mi.lk at ma.de

Featured Image Credit: Jeremy Scott