An Eye On Masculinity Beyond The Hood
Artist Duron Jackson Explores the Presence in the Present
Artists create to express. The multitude of concepts and ideas that emerge from any given piece of art can be numerous. The purpose, meaning and story behind the work can at times be complex, elusive, or obscure while some meanings or associations are clearer. The artist that seeks to fully engage his or her audience leaves space for exchange, allowing and welcoming viewers to bring his or her own perspective, baggage and experiences to the work.
Visual artist Duron Jackson’s work solicits viewer engagement and evokes many questions. His work speaks to and addresses masculine mobility (or, conversely, constraint) and existence in society. There is a quote from Richard Wright’s novel Black Boy that still seems to ring true: It states, “The color of a Negro's skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.” However, Jackson’s work aims to push past defenseless to strength, recognition and respect.
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Jackson’s sculpture, Migration, is currently on view at the Benrimon Gallery in New York City in the group exhibition titled, “Configured,” curated by TekaSelman. The show explores notions of identity and the self-portrait. Migration speaks to the idea of from whence one came, specifically via the relocation of southern Black people to various points north and east, most specifically New York. The sculpture consists of a large-scale sepia-toned photograph (that includes the artist's grandmother) positioned on the floor, and a metal needle that pierces through a stack of law books and three eggs.
Migration elicits deeper probing around questions such as how people have progressed and evolved over time, and since the migration. It is also a meditation on how environment and society impact an individual within and outside one's heritage, culture and family.
While Jackson’s maternal family comes from the south, he was born and raised in Harlem, making him able to claim the status of being a native New Yorker, a coveted and powerful identity, one that for some, trumps the self-proclamation of being “American.”
Growing up in New York City of the '70s and '80s shaped and informed Jackson’s identity. It created the landscape for him to bear witness to and live through the ravaging eras of crack cocaine and heroin addiction that annihilated the lives of many men, women and families and led to the violence of the streets as well as the deaths of friends to AIDS.
Jackson survived in part because his mother demanded a better education for her son that afforded him the opportunity to be schooled in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. He also benefitted from having a strong family.
Despite the “dead or in prison” messaging that burdened the shoulders of Black youth and males of that time period, it is paramount that Jackson is still standing, creating and living; he is a survivor. Although survivor is not a part of how he self-identifies, it is a theme that emerges in his work and how he positions materials in a manner that challenges viewers to re-examine their meaning in a given context.
When asked about of his role as an artist and why he chose to become one, Jackson states, “I had to create, I had to do something to prove that I am here.”
In his series of body paintings, which were created as a part of a performance, five nude, sculpted male participants enter the gallery space; their heads, covered with sacks, are carefully led and manipulated by Jackson. Each body, each man, is led to a tub filled with paint where Jackson applied black paint before positioning each body, either grouped or individually, in poses that black male bodies have occupied in history and in the present. Two uncomfortably familiar poses are the bodies with their hands up and one that represents a chain gang.
The body paintings create the occasion for viewers to confront and regard the male bodies while questioning their place in modern society and history. Adrienne Edwards, advisor to Performa and Ph.D. student at NYU in Performance Studies states, “[The] body prints simultaneously exist beyond and yet decidedly within historic and contemporary space and time. They are haunting works that carry the trace of a known but unspecified history, and mark the everyday reality and lived experience of the black male body.”
Other works by Jackson speak to the realities of mass incarceration and surveillance. Each begs questions such as Who is watching whom? Who is being captured? As well as what happens after? Mr. Jackson’s video installation Haze shows a correction officer being beaten by an inmate, which was captured on a surveillance camera. His Blackboard Paintings are what he describes as “aerial demarcations or architectural footprints of prisons within the U.S.” and seem to function as his own form of surveillance, a looking down upon and placing a watchful eye over the structures that contain so many Black and Latino men by removing them from society.
Further visual manifestations of his experiences continue the explorations of lineage and ancestry, the black male body as beautiful, while also creating tensions between the notions of presence and the void left by departures. Additionally his work addresses vulnerability, that collision of invisibility and hyper-visibility of Blackness through the lens and life of being a Black male.
Jackson took time to speak with Loop21 and tell us about his work and exhibitions upcoming exhibitions.
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Loop 21: Your piece, Migration (2010), is currently up at the Benrimon Gallery in Chelsea as a part of the group exhibition “Configured” whose theme is self-portraiture, discuss why you chose to include this work as a self-portrait.
Duron Jackson: The idea of self-portraiture in the show was very broad. The piece I included is titled Migration which is a family portrait telling the story of my Grandmother's migration from the south to New York during the Great Migration of the 1930's. The work is a kind of self-portrait of three generations of my family of which I'm included.
Loop 21: You are currently on the Modern Painters 100 Artists to Watch List where an image of your sculpture Brother’s Keeper is featured. Speak a little bit about this work and the symbolism of dominoes in this work as well as in “Opportunity”.
Duron Jackson: The work Brother's Keeper is a large-scale installation to be realized early 2013 at the American University Museum. The installation is a white cube, a wall-to-wall black domino tiled floor with a large hard-edged chair ascending from the middle of the space created with unhinged dominos.
The inspiration for this piece is broad, but in specific, our national political climate and the xenophobia (stirred by our current political players) is at the nexus of the idea. The motif of the black domino, with its white pips (dots) surrounded by black, attempt to invert and correct the illusion of the "other" as minority. It also addresses the disconnection of our relationship to daily commonalities such as our neighbors, communities and the needs that we share and have in common; hence the title.
Loop 21: In addition to the Modern Painters recognition, please discuss some highlights of your career, most specifically in the past three years.
Loop 21: Talk a little bit about your process for creating and the choices you make around materials. Also, speak a little bit about how you develop and execute a concept.
Duron Jackson: My work conflates academic and creative research and sometimes the research will take me in a completely different direction from the initial idea, which is always a good thing. As my work is very paired down, the signifier is almost always the material itself, and the form that manifests from the idea. Sometimes a material inspires me, but when process has an increased learning curve, then it becomes more about the process. My work is always a response to an experience, event, condition, or relationship to social or natural events.
Loop 21: Themes of surveillance and masculinity, specifically Black masculinity are prevalent in your work. What are some things that are not so obvious in your experiences and life as a black male that you bring forth in your work?
Duron Jackson: The quote by Kara Walker that says, “The Black body is a container of specific pathologies from the past and is perpetually growing and feeding off those inflictions” really sums it up. The body prints are an effort to visually distill the complexity of what it is to be alien within a western social paradigm, communicating this in a most simple way. This includes the tenderness and sublimity of being black and male, which is always overlooked. In the performances there are gestures of attention, and care that are generally overlooked.
So much of how the media constructs images of the black male deal with the body's exterior, and how it moves in the world. Not nearly enough is said about our interior spaces, our humanity, our vulnerability. Excluding the obvious architectural inferences, and its documentation of systems of mass incarceration, the main focus of the blackboard prison aerials' is our personal interiors, and how we construct and navigate our own parameters and self-made prisons.
Duron Jackson is currently a part of the Bronx Museum’s Artist-in-the-Marketplace program and has a forthcoming exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art this fall followed by exhibitions at the American University in early 2013. For more information visit www.duronjackson.com