Intisar Abioto: I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, and I’ve been here for almost five years. I came here with my mom and my four sisters. I was out of college maybe a year, and at first we were going to move to California. But then somehow or another, we didn’t find what we wanted there and we ended up coming here instead. It wasn’t on the perspective of how people are coming here now. We didn’t know anything about this place really beyond that it had a lot of vegan food. My mom is a vegan food artist, so that was a draw. But yeah, that’s how I got here.
Duplex: Did you go to art school or did you go for something else?
IA: Yeah, in terms of school, I had an interesting school experience. I went to a boarding school in Vermont, which was kind of the opposite of Memphis. It was just on a farm, maybe 60 students in my class. And then after that, I went to a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta, Spelman College. I was studying English and Dance and trying to find a dark room. After freshman year, I transferred to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where I studied also English and Dance. I didn’t go to art school; I went to liberal arts colleges and studied art. I started teaching myself photography when I was 14, so my three things are dance, photography, and writing. This whole visual art world, I didn’t so much learn it from the perspective of school. I just taught myself and read books, and took a few classes. It’s interesting. The way I learned art was both in the home and just learning. My father is a musician and an arts educator. My mom is writer and an attorney. The family is just very focused on civil rights and the history of the people in the African diaspora. In my home, as a child, and also just being around people in the community – dancers, musicians, storytellers, activists. So, I guess my arts practice, as it’s evolved, has been kind of an outpouring of that.
D: Do you see yourself as an arts activist?
IA: You know, I don’t see myself so much as an activist, but I see myself creating work around people and around the history and the present and future of people of the African Diaspora. Committed to that work of our lives and our dreams. So, a lot of my work stems out of that impulse for thriving and surviving. Actually, I want to say thriving, I don’t want to just survive. But I guess because my practices are interdisciplinary I feel like I’ve been working to make my form. Because it wasn’t always something I could go out there and find, seeing, you know, doing.
This is interesting to talk about because generally when people are asking these questions, they are asking me about my photography… but having a dance background where it is about my body… having an interest in writing and stories and myths. It’s really like a mash-up in an adventure that I’m making and you don’t see it out there made for you. It’s not like you can get people to co-sign, and be like, “oh, that’d be great to do.” You kind of have to just keep going a little bit and then through the process whatever person you are, whatever artist you are, becomes more real. Then people will see and then maybe like “oh, that makes sense.”
In terms of my practice, it’s very much about being a body in space. Allowing the information around me to come into my senses and also to craft a story from my body and from my dreams, from listening to the impulse of other people, and culture. The desire for culture or for dreams, not just what’s already available. So, that’s my impulse of like sensing things, this kind of embodied perspective because, this kind of embodied perspective of the photograph which is always some dream, some visual thing, and also a dance, which is also a visual practice. As a photographer, who’s moving around the space, that’s also dance. Sensing who could talk to me, who I could talk to, what the story is. And I’m probably still coming up with my own definition of what’s going on. Read More «In the Studio – Intisar Abioto»