On Friday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m., the Rose Art Museum hosted a Diaspora event with artist Mark Bradford and lawyer Anita Hill. The event was created because the Rose now houses some of Bradford’s work, and is part of the Art, Blackness and Diaspora series.
A few minutes before 2 p.m., the museum was already packed. Undergrads, grad students, faculty and friends were milling around the first floor chatting as everyone settled in. As the staff of the Rose prepared for the talk to begin, chairs were set up in every possible nook and cranny, including the landing of the staircase. An excited buzz passed through the crowd as we waited to hear from the artist whose collection fills the top floor of the Rose.
Mark Bradford is an African-American artist from Los Angeles known for his abstract pieces. The pieces showcased in the Rose are all collages made to look like paintings. Bradford explained that he purposely twisted and molded the paper to resemble oil paintings.
At the beginning of the talk, the director of the Rose, Christopher Bedford, introduced both Bradford and Hill. As he eloquently said, having Mark Bradford is a “one in 100 million” experience, and adding Anita to that makes it a “one in a billion experience.”
Bradford and Hill’s conversation flowed from there with relatively little comment on the part of Bedford. Hill mostly asked Bradford questions, which he answered to the best of his abilities.
The two were acquaintances, and had a friendly, and frankly hysterical, rapport that had the audience laughing and hanging on their every word. Bradford is a friendly, humble and wise artist whose main goals are to incite social change and make a positive impact on the world. Hill added onto his humble answers by bragging for him about his artistic accomplishments and community service.
Bradford made interesting and highly relevant connections between his life as a young hairdresser and his life as an artist. He professed that he hates making people look “heroic,” but he learned a lot about dignity from the women he met in his mother’s shop. He attributes the way he dealt with the indignities he faced and still faces now as an African-American homosexual man to the women of the salon, and how they handled hardship with grace and humor. He also confessed that the way he makes his collages look like paintings through the whittling and molding of paper is similar to how he used to process hair in the salon and make it look like something else.
When asked what his message would be to other people interested in social justice, Bradford suggested that we make ourselves more vulnerable. He explained that in his own life he would step out of his expertise and collaborate with other experts in order to get a dose of humility, but also to give the other person a sense of purpose. He also suggested searching out organizations that need your specific brand of help, because he believes that there is an organization like that for everyone that is willing to “open the conversation.” Lastly, he said in regards to the established art world that they should come out of their “empirical tower” because pop culture has a lot of ideas and people that can lend a new life to art.
Christopher Bedford ended the talk by asking both Bradford and Hill what made them individuals. Both of them had very different, but equally powerful responses. Hill answered that her individuality came from her unique view of the law as needing to be more human and less reliant on abstract Supreme Court legislature. Bradford took longer to answer, and spoke very thoughtfully about the topic. He very wisely explained that he knew from a very young age that “the collective” was not always supportive. He suggests that he grew up without a biological lineage or a permanent home, so he was very comfortable being an individual. He also suggested that since he was subject to group hate from such a young age, and because he knew that hate came from those who were under informed, he had learned to be forgiving.
This allowed him to practice whatever he believed because he did not care about universal opinions. Hill added some final comments after the crowd had absorbed this message, saying that although the collective may not accept her views of law, that is all right, because as long as you never forget and are proud of yourself, that is all that really matters.
Overall, this event was spectacularly successful both in the huge number of people it attracted and in the salient points Hill and Bradford were able to express. Their interactions were able to incite laughter, understanding and enthusiasm in the crowd and Bradford’s humility and honesty left a lasting impact on everyone. Mark Bradford proved to be a wise and humble person, and those interested in the topics discussed in this discussion should certainly check out his work in the Rose.