By Shelby Otto
Artist and scholar, Rashayla Marie Brown, is a diverse artist and academic who pursues creative processes through an exploration of both individual and societal self. Brown led a lecture geared toward art and art history students on Thursday, Nov. 1.
“I shapeshift as an ‘undisciplinary’ artist, educator, provocateur, director and author,” Brown pronounced in her artist statement.
Brown is not afraid to raise both questions and eyebrows. Being an artist of African American descent, much of her work engages with her racial identity. One of her works, a performance piece that involves her chanting out of a megaphone down into city streets, speaks to the relationship in modern society between African American people and law enforcement.
As the audience watches the video unfold, they are provided views both from the artist’s and passerby’s perspectives. One particular frame shows a police officer shining a spotlight on Brown as she engages in her performance. This particular moment creates a sense of tension because of society’s modern conflict that is so commonly seen in the media between the African American community and law enforcement institutions.
Later in her lecture, Brown revealed what actually unfolded outside of the frames she showed us. Rather than reprimanding her and forcing her to shut down her performance, nothing really happened between artist and police officer. She said there were no confrontational issues outside of the spotlight that was shined on her. In her opinion, she assumed they were making sure she wasn’t “some crazy person” about to do something dangerous.
While Brown definitely highlighted the importance of her racial background and experience as an African American, she also explored the concept of the artist as a master genius while rejecting the institutionalization of art. Typically throughout art history, the genius artist is all-knowing, self-important and successful in all creative paths, and those works are the ones that museums tend to privilege. Brown contrasted this concept by identifying herself as an “undisciplinary” artist as she finds this to “be oppressive to people” when making creative works.
During her lecture, Brown compared the artistic creator to women’s creation of life. Though artists are held to high standards, to make art that resonates aesthetically and agreeably with a broad audience, she pits these ideas against the struggles of the mother’s body. As both art and artist, Brown claims that one becomes a spectacle, a kind of “other” that she strives to address in her photography, performance art and creative writing. “The viewer becomes aware of my humanity through viewing the person who created me,” Brown states at the close of her lecture.
Brown provided an engaging conversation through her non-linear exploration of her artwork and her past. What was most striking about Brown and her work was that she explored various realms of creative art, whether that be through photography, performance art or poetry. Brown made herself and her work vulnerable in exposing the thought process behind particular works.
An artist who has moved 24 times, Rashayla Marie Brown confronts various audiences through different aspects of her sense of self. You can view her work at http://www.rmbstudios.com.