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Landscape of Lost Histories

We first came across to fast-rising American artist Kevin Claiborne's work while he was pursuing his MFA at Columbia University and were happy to learn about his solo at Public Service in Stockholm, having recently just seen a solo of his at Sean Horton in NYC which saw a personal family archive as its point of departure. "I’ve recently been more interested in finding ways to reformulate new memories and mythologies with regards to my family history. Using my immediate family’s archive has been a powerful tool enabling me to explore the complexities of memory, history, and representation", he says.


Kevin Claiborne, Landscape of Lost Histories, installation view, Public Service, Stockholm, 2023

C-P: One of the first works of yours I came across was Black Enough in which deeply poignant questions such as “How does Blackness manifest?”, “Who can claim blackness?” and “What is black enough?” are asked that consider “Blackness” intersectionally and as such would suggest a personal experience of identity development and identification that is more than just a homogenous one fits all narrative. It of course should go without saying, but when I came across your work, I was reminded how often this sort of “intersectionality” is omitted out addressing “Blackness”.

K.C: It is no secret that Blackness is not monolithic. My exploration of Blackness is not just a matter of personal or artistic interest, but a political act, a means of challenging some dominant narratives and stereotypes that have historically shaped the representation of Black people in art and popular culture. The best way for me to share the diversity and richness of Blackness is to offer multiple lenses and viewpoints that include celebration, challenge, and inquiry. I do that by working in different modes, including text and language as well as imagery, and through the assertion of my own voice and agency in these conversations around identity where I may otherwise be silenced or ignored.

Kevin Claiborne, Landscape of Lost Histories, installation view, Public Service, Stockholm, 2023


C-P: When I recently caught your solo exhibition Family Business at Sean Horton in NYC, I loved it, and took an appreciation of the universal relatability of the images of the works and it brought to mind how many times growing up I’ve surveyed my parents’ backstory that predates the birth of my twin brother and I through their extensive collection of photographic albums. How it filled out so many gaps about a diasporic experience and our identity. Also, at the core the works appeared at first glance a celebration of life where the glimpses into a Black family were not visibly connected to trauma. What prompted you to turn to the family archive in that particular moment in time when you did?

K.C: I’ve recently been more interested in finding ways to reformulate new memories and mythologies with regards to my family history. Using my immediate family’s archive has been a powerful tool enabling me to explore the complexities of memory, history, and representation. Layering these moments, fragments of memories, and experimenting with color and texture allow me to comment on personal and collective memory in a way that challenges my practice in a healthy way.


Kevin Claiborne, No Time to Wait for America, 2023, collage on paper, 30.5 x 22.9 cm

C-P: I ask out of genuine curiosity and would wonder who some artists might have been who’ve had impact on your own artistic practice and who one way or served with influence?

K.C: I’m always impressed by my peers, and I appreciate the opportunity to have some relative proximity to their growth. Watching artists who push their ideas forward with intention and care is always a beautiful sight to see. Some artists lately who have been inspiring me are Ja’Tovia Gary, Torkwase Dyson, Keli Safia Maksud, and Lindsey Brittain Collins.

C-P: Congrats on your exhibition in Sweden! That’s wonderful that you are exhibiting here. I would not have expected that of a recent grad of Columbia; it counters expectation that exists here. We’re still so provincial when it comes to emerging artists and who shows here. Tell me about your collaboration with Public Service and how the exhibition came about?

K.C: I am so excited for the opportunity to share my work in Sweden. Peter Gerdman from Public Service reached out to me about 2 years ago and we did a few studio visits and meetings over video chat. Once we spoke about one another’s vision, and how excited they were about my practice, I knew we had to arrange an exhibition. They are truly an excellent team to work with and I am so happy that this collaboration was able to come to fruition.


Kevin Claiborne, Untitled (Unconformity), 2023, mixed media on panel, 40.5 x 30.5 cm

C-P: The exhibition Landscape of Lost Histories again asks questions, but this time would appear to do so more specifically placing at fore and considering the gaze of young Black youth and their navigation of identity. The notion of “loss” clearly is a pillar here and exists already in the title but also the scope of vast possibilities inherent in history yet to write would appear to factor the equation. What could be said of the series Lost Boys? And your choice for instance of using materials from the earth as artistic matter for parts of the works in the exhibition?

K.C: For both the Lost Boys series and the Unconformity series, I wanted to take two different approaches (using found imagery, and found earth) dealing with lost information, lost knowledge, lost land, and use these spaces of loss or “gaps” as a starting point. My goal was to offer more complex and nuanced ways of seeing and understanding the Black experience, Black identity, and Blackness as a vast cultural landscape. Since the Unconformities are inspired by natural phenomenon that takes place in the Earth, (The Great Unconformity) I decided using the Earth was an appropriate starting point for the abstract works. The Lost Boys series was another way to engage the viewer with repetition, pattern, and unanswered questions, all of which can be observed in nature as well as in history (of people in general, and of Black people more specifically).


Kevin Claiborne, Landscape of Lost Histories, installation view, Public Service, Stockholm, 2023


C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead for you this year and next?

K.C: I’m going to take a lot of personal time this year to focus on my health and relationships, and continue making work at a slower pace. I will have work in a group show at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York in June along with a few other exciting opportunities in the works.

Ashik Zaman

Images courtesy of Public Service


www.public-service.com

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