Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Studio Visit With SUZANNE BROUGHEL by Sandra Mack-Valencia

A Studio Visit With SUZANNE BROUGHEL by Sandra Mack-Valencia

         A long train ride home is awaiting as I leave Suzanne Broughel's studio visit. A long commute that is actually very welcomed as I was left with quite a load of information and ideas to think about. Suzanne's work -in her own words, "is not black or white, right or wrong, but a way to start conversations." That is exactly how it feels after her visit. We just got started, and I am eager to see more, to talk more, to know more. 

Suzanne's ability to make work anywhere frees her from the necessity of having a permanent studio space. Sometimes she works at home, sometimes at a specific site, or just wherever the flow of her artistic routine allows her. For this studio chain visit, I met Suzanne at the Arts East New York Inc gallery, where she is currently showing 2 pieces in the exhibition "Threadz: Untwining Mistaken Messages Within The Fabric Of Hip Hop", which was curated around the subject of the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin and the perceptions of Hip Hop culture.

Suzanne's work is undeniably political. Her pieces are charged and powerful, and also visually striking. It amazed me how she is so passionate about the concept, and so equally concerned about the aesthetics and presentation of the work. Her materials are rather common, and -like she describes them, "easily accessible and low budgeted". You won't find Suzanne at Pearl or Utrecht, she prefers to get her art materials at a Duane Reade, in thrift shops, or just in the street. Her materials go from basketballs, bandaids, and inexpensive t-shirts from unknown brands, to pennies dipped in foundation make-up, braids made of shoelaces and buttons gotten at e-bay.  Her objects are usually linked to a particular culture: the African American one.

Race, racism, categories, labels, appropriation.  All these concepts are constantly in Suzanne's discourse, and one can understand that better by looking a little deeper into her childhood. She grew up in Yonkers, where racial division was clear enough to have little 6-year-old Suzanne feel there was something strange going on. Her house was situated right at the border that divided the white territory from the black one. Her family lived on the "black school district" side of the street, therefore she had to attend a predominantly black elementary school where she had a great time and had good friends, but did not comprehend well why after school things felt different. Her father was not totally comfortable with having his little girl grow up among African Americans, and she did not socialize with her black classmates outside of school. After having to lie about her address, she attended middle school in a predominantly white school, but after that her high school years reunited her with the black friends from her childhood, only by this time,the separation had made them virtual strangers.

We looked at many of her pieces.  Basketballs punched with big holes, referring to both: commercialization of a culture by literally selling pieces of a basketball touched by a Sports Superstar, and also to gunshots. Braids made of shoelaces or t-shirts speak about appropriation of a culture.  Pennies dipped in different foundation make-up colors and then stamped on a white piece of cloth talk about economics and inequality. 

From all the works we discussed, the one I chose for this studio chain exhibit is a work currently in progress. It consists of hundreds of political campaign buttons from different years. Suzanne has removed the political party name and has left only the message.  This is how messages without a specific messenger turn into a marvelous unanimous utopia claiming for a better world.  It struck me that no matter if you are a democrat or republican, left or right, they all say positive things.  I guess after being assigned by Carrie to paint my childhood idea of a heaven populated by all kind of animals getting along, why not to have all politicians getting along as well!
Sandra Mack-Valencia 06/27/2012