Myra Greene is a photographer and the 2016 – 17 Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Spelman College. A celebrated artist and educator, Greene enjoys exploring photographic processes that engage issues about the body, memory, and the ever-shifting identity of African Americans. Greene has been an artist in residence at prestigious institutions including Light Work at Syracuse University, New York, and the Center for Photography at Woodstock. Her work is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and Spelman College. The Museum sat down with Greene recently and asked three questions.
1. The Museum acquired your photographs Untitled #12 and Untitled #53 from the Character Recognition series, which were inspired by your personal and cultural experiences with bigotry. You question what people see when they look at you and if they are capable of seeing your character as clearly as they see your skin tone. This work was completed between 2006 and 2007 and you comment that these lessons were “haunting and frightening in these modern times.” It is 2017, and we continue to ponder these questions. Let us know how you feel about this work now.
MG: It’s always about how we look. And you would think that we would look differently as time goes on, but there’s something innate about classification. That’s what we do. For good or bad, we sort, and I think about that a lot. After Character Recognition, I did a project called My White Friends to see what happens when I sort. We always talk about the Blackness Sort, but do we talk about the sorting of others?
Character Recognition was important for me to visually communicate that we still look, we still sort, and we still classify, but it was also important to say that I will be classified in a beautiful and magnificent way. Now that I have less of them in my life [because many were purchased], they’ve become more precious. I’m fascinated 10 years later by the response and see how the projects required the viewer to slow down and reconsider the way they’re looking at the works.
2. Tell us about your current projects?
MG: After Character Recognition and My White Friends I was interested in talking about self-portraiture without using the body. In 2013, I started experimenting with African fabrics—deconstructing them, and making physical collages that were then photographed and scanned and made into photographs. They’ve ultimately led me to textile work. There is a lot of silk screening, embroidery, hand stitching, and machine stitching that then goes back into making a photograph, which is part one. The second part becomes an exploration of quilt making as a deconstruction and reconstruction of design. What ultimately happens is it becomes a metaphor for the reconstruction of self. I am also making protest quilts as a means to think about the act of sewing and art making as protest.
3. You are hosting two artists who will present public lectures on March 29 and April 5. Tell us about the featured artists and why you selected them.
MG: Deborah Jack and Sama Alshaibi have an inspirational scope of experiences to offer attendees. I am interested in their photographic process, how they make their work, and their journeys to successfully move outside of photography to video, sculpture, and installation. They also have an interesting global perspective within their biographies that materializes in their art.
Deborah Jack will be presenting on how hurricanes and salt can represent the fury of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and its need to wash over the unseen. Her lecture, “the water between us remembers: Hurricanes and the Aftermath as a Catalyst For Artistic Re-membering” is on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in the Suites Private Dining Room.
Sama Alshaibi, who is Iraqi and Palestinian, uses her blended identity to explore the notion of statelessness. She will present her lecture, The Length of The Neck, on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in the Suites Private Dining Room.