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Multidisciplined

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The latest Partner Re Lecture speaker at the Bermuda National Gallery (BNG) Sanford Biggers, is nothing if not versatile.

In a recent Biggers piece called “Constellation (Strange Fruit)” shown at Harvard University, an antique quilt hung over the branch of a cherry tree carved by himself.

Stars were projected on the floor around the tree to represent the stars that Harriett Tubman followed when she escaped along the Underground Railroad. A real choir burst into song.

Mr Biggers is an interdisciplinary artist who works in film, installation, sculpture, music, and performance, among other things.

His work generally explores American history and the African American experience.

He first came to notoriety in 2001 when a collaborative work was included in the exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Since then, his works have appeared at the Tate Modern in London, the Renaissance Society in Chicago, and the Whitney Biennial in New York, among others.

In 2009 he received the William H Johnson Prize and was one of the three finalists for the inaugural Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, the largest juried prize in the world to go to an individual visual artist.

“Some people would like to pigeon hole me because I do so many different things,” he told The Royal Gazette. “It is all just a matter of creation and artistic expression. I have always been that way.

“I started out more on the musical side, then gradually moved more to the fine arts side. I have always kept my musical interest and interest in performance.

“When I was still in school I did have people saying I had to make a decision and I couldn't do multiple things.

“They said I had to do one specific thing. That never made sense to me. It is interesting that now most artists I know are working in many disciplines.”

A few years ago he began painting on antique quilts, some of them donated by a fan of his work who was a descendant of slave owner and seventh American president, Andrew Jackson.

“She was visiting my studio and saw I was working with quilts and she used to collect quilts,” he said. “She was looking for a place to put them. She gave me several.

“I paint on them. There was definitely a moment that I had to figure out what I was doing.”

He is fascinated by quilts because they have such an important place in American history.

In the 1700s quilts were a part of a woman's dowry. As houses weren't well heated, they were a necessity in the winter.

It is also thought by some historians that they were used to signal messages to people fleeing slavery on the “Underground Railroad” before the US Civil War.

For example, a quilt with the colour black in it might have been hung outside to indicate a safe house.

“The idea that they were used that way is now up for debate,” said Mr Biggers. “I personally never really thought of quilts as anything other than art work. Whether I am debasing them or embellishing them is up to you.”

He has lectured and shown his work all over the world. He has found that people outside of the United States sometimes interpret things differently.

“There is sometimes a lot of coded language in my work,” he said. “When pieces are seen in Europe, it has one reading and when it is read in Kentucky it has a different reading.

“One piece can have several different layers: things very specific to America, things specific to African America and things more specific to the global diaspora and spirituality.”

One of the works he is most proud of is “The Something Suite” performed at Performa 2007 in New York City.

Performa is a biennial with an array of new performance by visual artists from around the world.

“I was able to collaborate with several musicians, poets and composers and bring them into a performance art piece,” he said. “They all did a great job.”

He said he believed there was a hunger in the African American community for art that explored the African American experience and history, but most people weren't really conscious yet of their hunger.

He is currently Assistant Professor at Columbia University's Visual Arts programme. This will be Mr Biggers' second visit to Bermuda.

His lecture will be held at the BNG on September 13 from 5.30pm to 7pm. Tickets are $10 for members and $20 for non-members. For more information call 295-9428, e-mail director@bng.bm or see www.bng.bm.

www.sanfordbiggers.com

Rockstar quilt by Sanford Biggers.
Quilt #9 (Cheshire) by Sanford Biggers
Photo by Joshua White Sanford Biggers, The Bridge is Over (biddybyebye), 2006, plastic and metal, 24 x 41 inches. From Sanford Biggers' Freedom: and Other Seldom Travelled Roads exhibition at Mary Goldman Gallery.

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Published September 06, 2013 at 10:43 am (Updated September 06, 2013 at 10:43 am)

Multidisciplined

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