This week the students headed to multi-media artist Michael Paul Britto’s studio. Britto’s work deals with controversial issues in society such as race and violence. In the beginning of his career he worked more with the mainstream side of media such as television commercials. Over time he began to create his own work, and because the nature of his work was conceptual rather than narrative he started to put his work in galleries.
Michael is inspired by events in his life, TV, pop culture, trash, magazines, toys, etc. Many of his videos are about personal events. For example, a video that features a window was created based on memories from his childhood of people having conversations from their windows.
The students had mixed reactions to Michael’s work because the subjects he deals with are tendentious. Some students actually felt sick because of the piece called And they Sold Us Like Beasts. This video alludes to the journey of Slaves during the African Slave Trade. The video focuses on a repeating wave in the ocean with the sound of sick, grumbling slaves in the background, giving the viewers the feeling that they themselves are on that ship.
Michael might say that if his work makes people feel nauseated then it is successful. Michael says “you should remember what you see in an art gallery.” He enjoys making people feel uncomfortable since it makes his work a lot more memorable.
Another striking piece was Who Has the Power? For this video project Britto designed a Ku Klux Klan costume out of African textiles. According to the curatorial statement from a show at Taller Boricua that featured this piece, “by switching the semantics of the historical language of dominance and oppression, Britto empowers viewers to see the possibility of change and the transient nature of power and control at its core.” Initially in the presence of the piece one might feel uneasy even terrified because of the connotation around the costume. To me, this piece, while making a disturbing reference to the presence of racism in society, also gives hope that one day racism will be less prominent in our lives. One component that makes Britto’s work so powerful is the ambiguity in pieces such as this one. There is not just one interpretation, but there are many layers.
Post by Dayalin Suriel, 2011-2012 Art Ready student and Exploring the Arts high school intern