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Stephanie Baptist, founder of Brooklyn’s Medium Tings gallery, has carved out a space of her own in the New York art world, making it her mission to platform underrecognized Black artists. Years of professional experience working in the arts, including a role as head of exhibitions at Tiwani Contemporary in London, prepared the curator to launch her own gallery. She transformed her Crown Heights apartment into a viewing space, open on Sundays and by appointment, to showcase a lineup of emerging Black artists across mediums, like Milo Matthieu and Ayana Evans.
For now, the gallery is on hiatus as she transitions living spaces, but in the interim, her carefully curated Instagram operates as Baptist’s means to share Black art with an eager and engaged public.
I spoke with Baptist about her entrepreneurial curatorial practice, viscerally connecting with artworks, and her intended next steps for the gallery.
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JW: Can you tell me a little bit about the name “Medium Tings” and where that originated?
SB: The “Medium” is two-fold: “Medium” in the sense of the actual, technical aspect of art, thinking about photography, sculpture, painting, so that represents the medium itself. But, also in scale. When I was looking around in my home, I was like, “Well, I can’’t do really large works.” The interesting thing is, I was meeting artists, and some of the works were really big, and I was like, “I think I’m more of a medium-to-small type space.” And then the “Tings” came about as an homage to the neighborhood and its Caribbean roots. I thought it was fitting, since it was on Eastern Parkway, to say “tings.”
JW: I’d love to hear about your thought process while curating a show. While choosing your next artist, and if there is any sort of idea of cohesion that you’ve tried to make or a line of continuity in terms of the artists that you’ve been working with.
SB: I’d say the continuous line for me is that I’ve always wanted to explore more of the understated dialogues around Black art. A majority of the works, when I started with Jonathan Gardenhire, Jonathan was a really deliberate start. His work is around Black masculinity, and it seemed like a really fitting topic given the idea of police brutality. There was this notion of, “How can we portray Black men in a really positive light?” but also with multi-dimensions. That was a very specific thing to present these men in all of their glory, being themselves without falling into any tropes of stereotypes or anything like that. Then I started doing the show with Temitayo Ogunbiyi. Temitayo is a mother as well as a really talented artist, so her works were quieter as well, but I would say that if there’s a see-through line, it was the idea of the subtleties that we don’t really get to explore and discuss.
JW: Do you have a show in particular that you’re most proud of having curated in that space?
SB: I would have to say I’m proud of all my babies, I don’t like to play favorites. But I would say that the one that challenged me the most, that I’m the most proud of, would probably be Ayana Evans, because I think performance art is the medium which was still the last frontier for me. It was that one medium that’s always felt a little bit out of reach, so for me to actually work with someone like Ayana was incredible in the sense that we both found that there were so many challenges for both of us. This was Ayana’s first solo exhibition in this capacity.
She’s a performance artist, so what does it look like to make a solo show around an artist who’s actually a performance? We had multiple mediums with her, and she did two live performances. We also had video works and VR works, so there were a lot of elements going with this one, and then there was also an installation. We installed a wall in order to really build up the space, so I think I’m the most proud of that one.
JW: How has Black art affected your life — from whenever you started becoming interested in art up until now, as a curator and gallery owner?
SB: I was seeking it out. For me, it became an extension of who I am. The way that I looked at Black art was … I would use art as a means of dialogue for myself to express a feeling or a sentiment. So that’s something that I’ve been carrying or trying to carry through even within my territorial practice is this idea of how art has an ability to say the things that we can’t always say ourselves. Black art, for me, it’s like home. It’s like I see myself on the wall — I see my complexities, I see my dimensions. So I think that that’s how. That’s how I see art — Black art specifically.
JW: Now that you’re someone who is putting art into the world and who is helping connect people to art, how do you hope it can affect other people?
SB: I think that when people come into this space, the gallery, they kind of connect, they see themselves, and I think that there’s a certain amount of reverence that gets put onto seeing something that might look like you. You might not understand it on the wall, but there’s some sort of relatability.
I’m hoping that, with each show or with each exchange, there’s a new level of dialogue that can blossom and grow. ’’m there for that reason, to be able to bridge the two. I like to facilitate conversations with someone who’s like, “I don’t understand why this is important for me to buy.” I walk them through that process and I explain that it’s not necessarily about the longevity of, “Is this work gonna turn into some sort of financial return for you?” I think it’s more about, “Do you love it? Do you want it to be in your space?” Let’s take the money part away from it and let’s think purely about how you feel or if it evokes a memory or a thought. I think that that’s valuable enough to sit on your wall.
JW: Given the temporary closure, are you are planning on reopening?
SB: Absolutely. I am planning to reopen when I find a new space. Also, I’ve been trying to think about what that looks like and what the next iteration of Medium Tings could be. I love the idea of the apartment because I feel like there’s so much intimacy with it, so I would love to continue in that particular realm. But I’m also interested in this idea of, “What would it look like outside of the home space?” So, I’m playing around with a few ideas in terms of a few branches of Medium Tings and what it could be.
JW: Aside from the space itself, what are you planning in this transition period for the gallery?
SB: What I’m planning is to work on our first book. I’m gonna be working with Jonathan Gardenhire and trying to put it out this year, by the end of the year. It’ll be both written and a majority of his work. Publishing is one of those things that I have experience and background in, so I’ve been wanting to, with Medium Tings, to develop a publishing press.