2018/19 Jerome Fellow Interview: Mara Duvra | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

2018/19 Jerome Fellow Interview: Mara Duvra

By Kendall Dickinson on June 30, 2019
From the series: I disliked solitude, but I also craved it, 2019, archival pigment print, 8 x 8 inches  ; Mara Duvra
Mara Duvra

In this interview, Mara Duvra discusses the influence of the quotidian, the quietude of inner landscapes, and her carefully arranged installations.

You’ve spoken previously about rebelling against the idea that black artists have to make work about being black. How did you navigate this thought when constructing your project Tending: meditations on interiority and blackness? In what ways did you find entrance into the work that felt comfortable for you? 

Rebelling isn’t a description that I would use for this work. In my practice as a visual artist and writer, I am centering interiority and pointing to an understanding that artists who are Black have been and will continue to make work that goes beyond rebellion, resistance, or public identity.

“I was looking for something to soften living, the collapse of it/the reach of it.” —Nathalie Stephens

I began this project thinking about the quiet and quotidian, the still and meditative. With a similar methodology I’ve used in prior bodies of work, I began by using photographic images, poetry, found objects, and small sculptures to consider environments that encourage stillness and contemplation of interior landscapes. 

I am using the same conceptual approach of imaging poetic representations of tenderness, calm, and creativity in order to introduce wonder and imagination into the handling of black identities to add to the rich anthology of representations of blackness. 

Your exhibitions appear carefully crafted and balanced. Can you speak a bit about what the process looks like for assembling something so intricate?

My work is created through a process of accretion, layering, and building meaning with language, images, and found or made objects. Through this process, I am constantly narrowing and expanding my focus in order to get to the place where I am enacting a practice of extension rather than conclusion.

My materials are porous and ephemeral: text, light, wood, paper, glass, fabric, and language. The process of installing is contemplative, reflective, and refractive. When considering work for an installation I am constantly arranging and distilling objects and ideas so the balance comes with intentional effort.

How do you hope your work will affect viewers? Do you consider it simply a study meant for quiet contemplation, or do you hope to fully change perceptions? Do you think one of these responses matters more over the other?

I hope the work will provide opportunities for conversations around race that tap into more personal narratives. Viewers of the work will be able to see a more personal take on racial identity and how it can be both liberating and limiting.

The installations are working towards creating environments where stillness and contemplation are suggested stances. I am interested in aesthetic and spiritual minimalism and how each space can be made into a sanctuary.

By sanctuary, I mean the widest sense of the word, spaces that don’t just cause you to look at images but to attune your attention in more deliberate ways either to an inner or outer landscape.

Do you consider the “arrangements” of exhibitions to be a medium on its own in your work? Or is it simply part of the process of construction?

My work is shaped by an act of collecting. Within my practice, I am collecting objects, texts, and images. I am interested in the malleable qualities of images and text. 

The resulting work manifests in several composite gestures, such as small tableaux of arranged photographs, objects, and poetry, which moved into a large installation of several works acting as one piece or poetic statement. I like the idea of collapsing the language of poetry and visual art and combining elements of both, i.e., an installation with footnote symbols as titles or an artist book that uses the legibility of photographs as textual information.

The installations are working towards creating environments where stillness and contemplation are suggested stances. 

You’ve done curatorial work in addition to your own art practice. How do these to things interrelate and speak to one another for you?

I see curation as an extension of my practice the brings together elements of research, writing, collecting, and arranging. Curating has presented an opportunity to engage with the work of artists whose work I admire and want to center and bring attention to intentional pairings and themes. The exhibition Yes, and the body has memory was a show about identity, the body, and heritage. Each artist was working in a different context and yet their work together in the space created seamless visual narratives. I am interested in curation as a methodology to meet and talk with other artists working in deeply resonate and powerful ways. When given an opportunity, I want to be able to create space for artists of color to be seen and understood.

What artists/poets/thinkers have been most instrumental in helping you evolve as an artist? 

Many of the influences that have impacted the way I read, write, and make has come from black feminists writers, poetry and hybrid text from writers whose work transcends genre, and interdisciplinary artists and photographers. To name a few: Leslie Hewitt, Ann Hamilton, Carrie Mae Weems, Lisa Robertson, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Dawn Lundy Martin, Anne Carson, Kevin Quashie, and Claudia Rankine. 

From these artists and writers, I have discovered writing that oscillates between poetics and philosophy, prophetic clarity on cultural and social experience, delicate and grand forms of imaging, and description and research that are intimate and moving.