Today for our Summer Session theme of celebrity we bring you an interview between curator Laura Blereau and artist Rashaad Newsome from our friends at Guernica. Newsome’s cooptation of heraldic symbolism blends the opulent vernacular of aristocracy with feminist and pop-cultural forms, forming a critique of the art world, hip-hop, and global capitalism that is both pointed and complicit. This article was originally published on March 17, 2014.
Guernica: The kind of art that you create has found a wide international audience, yet its themes are emblematic of the Gulf Coast. How did being raised in New Orleans influence your perspective on art and culture at large?
Rashaad Newsome: When I think about New Orleans as a point of inspiration, I think about growing up in a place where street theater is so readily available all the time. Brass bands are vibrant. Drumming, improvisation. In my work I often use improvisation as a device to compose. For example, it’s a very important component of my performances FIVE and Shade Compositions. In that sense, I think part of my process is connected to the musical traditions of the New Orleans landscape. I’m also influenced by the region’s sense of color, ornament, its interest in pageantry, obviously, and Baroque architecture.
The experience of art can be had strolling from Camp Street to the Bywater, and on that walk one can encounter so much. Maybe someone is playing a trumpet, and then you go a little further and see a mime; then up the block somebody is singing, and another person is painting canvases on the street. Whether it is “good” or not is debatable, but there are a lot of artistic gestures constantly happening around you there. It’s a very accessible art community that way.