This is the 165th installment of a series in which artists send in a photo and a description of their workspace. This week, for a special Juneteenth edition, we’ve invited Black artists in Texas to reflect on quarantining from their studios. In light of COVID-19, we’ve been asking participants to reflect on how the pandemic has changed their studio space and/or if they are focusing on particular projects while quarantining. Want to take part in a future edition? Submit your studio — just check out the submission guidelines.
Dawn Okoro, Austin, Texas
My studio is a small room in my home. I chose this room because one of the walls is covered in windows that allow light and warmth to pour in. I paint in this room while listening to music in my headphones. I also use the room as a photography studio and a storage space.
When quarantine became my reality, I initially lost my appetite to create. I was drowning in anxiety. But after a few weeks, I was back in my studio, easing back into art by creating small drawings in muted tones. Then I began constructing new canvases so that I could begin painting again.
I went into quarantine in mid-March of 2020. As we approach Juneteenth, marking the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free, I remain at home, reflecting on a current uprising over racial injustice. I hope that the marks on my new canvases will document a moment of lasting change for the better.
Betelhem Makonnen, Austin, Texas
My studio has always been a sacred space of attention and observation for me. A retreat from the exhausting navigation of the matrix of constant distractions that is our day-to-day life, which often leaves us in a state of extreme anxiety believing we have no time to respond to ourselves, to each other, nor our world. Though architecturally separate from my body, my studio functions as a physical extension of my inner body, a room to breathe.
After weeks in lockdown, I resumed my studio time recently with meditative sweeping and organizing the remnants of material and tools that were strewn all over the place, in the aftermath of work for a solo show that I opened in March. This opening, which seems a hundred years ago, was more than likely the last time that most members of my city’s arts community were together in one space. This show, which ironically is called Rock Standard Time (RST), continues frozen inside the gallery where it opened on the eve of everything that is our new now, like a kind of surreal time capsule.
I am not currently “making” in the sense of objects or forms. I am reading a lot, unlearning and learning, mostly having daily conversations with other artists about strategies to ensure that this painfully intense time of unexampled experiences will bear necessary generative transformation on both the micro and macro level. I am acutely aware that this palpable potential brought to life with so much sacrifice and loss is too precious to waste. I am finding ways to actively align my practice to support and participate in the abolitionist movements of our times. Our times are in our hands. Work, rest, repeat.
Tammie Rubin, Austin, Texas
This is my studio; it’s empty because I just signed the lease. It’s empty because I have conflicted feelings renting a studio space in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and an uprising against police brutality and white supremacy. It’s empty because I feel guilty about renting a new studio when I have friends and colleagues who are out of work. It’s empty because it is a reminder that the week of March 10th everything changed. The university where I teach closed campus, and since that is also where I worked, I lost my studio. By working on campus, I modeled a studio practice for art students. It’s how I discovered I wanted to be an artist and art professor. My mentor would invite me into his studio which was attached to the classroom. When campus closed it was hard to believe I wouldn’t see my students in person again. My studio is empty because it’s exhausting to witness people who look like me be murdered in a callous mundane fashion. I can’t turn off my brain and I feel the compulsion to construct building. Making seems such a small act, yet I am an artist and the studio can’t be empty for long.
Ariel René Jackson, Austin, Texas
My easel consists of the dialogues I am engaged in whether they be found objects, theories, or conversation. They find their way into my studio through phone calls, face calls, or bits of notes — my wall catches them, nestled behind and entangled with attachments to the wall. During this pandemic I sit in meditation — reaching out to touch the ecosystem of thoughts I am reliant on, in relationship to, in conversation with. I keep all that is erased — the ghosts of my thoughts collaged together.
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