ARAD’s own Dr. Dubin took a moment to share with us what he’s been up to while on sabbatical this past year. Dr. Dubin spent time in South Africa, completed a one-month residency at Ucross (an artist/writer retreat in Clearmont, Wyoming), spent 5 weeks in Italy, and completed another one-month residency at the Rockefeller Foundation – sponsored retreat, Bellagio. Following the opening of his photography exhibition in early June, Dr. Dubin will finish his sabbatical with another trip to South Africa before returning to Teachers College for the Fall semester.
What goals did you have when you took this sabbatical? Did you have specific projects you wanted to work on or did most of your work happen organically as you traveled and studied? My work always unfolds organically, and I can’t know yet which of my experiences might generate work. I wished to complete a book manuscript on a collection of 1,400 negatives, made between 1972 and 1984, at a “non-white” portrait studio in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg. The manuscript is now done, and is being considered for possible publication at a Germany-based art publisher. This accompanies an exhibition which I have presented in three South African cities, and will premiere in NYC at The Walther Collection Project Space in Chelsea on 2 June (all invited). Several ARADers have worked with me on this project, now entitled Who I Am: Rediscovered Portraits from Apartheid South Africa. I found this archive in 2011, which had been stowed away in a suburban Johannesburg for 15-20 years. I also worked on another archive I have discovered, consisting of photos and documents that remained unclaimed at a Johannesburg photo shop; all were left there in the 1990s. I have written a first article about a selection of these latter photos, using the rubric of “erratics” (a geological term for rocks/boulders carried by glaciers, and then dumped somewhere that does not match the landscape of their point of origin; in other words, it has drifted far away from where it originated). I submitted the article to African Arts, and have just about completed drafting a revised version that I will resubmit.
One unexpected project was an invitation from Art in America to review a book about the pressure African American and Latino artists put on major NY museums during the late 1960s/early 1970s, to make them become more inclusive (Susan Cahan, Mounting Frustration: the Art Museum in the Age of Black Power). That review was published in the January issue.
I understand you completed two writing residencies while you were away. How does the unique workspace of these residencies help cultivate creativity for writers? The residencies were very different. Ucross was a mix of practicing artists, writers (poets and novelists), and musicians. As is usually the case, I was the only non-fiction writer in the group, but my work in the arts makes me competitive for these positions. Ucross is very laid back: beautiful scenery; absolute quiet (there is no there there); deer, rabbits, wild turkeys and the occasional fox running past your windows; very eclectic mix of creative folks. Residencies remove you from any responsibilities, and you therefore have the privilege of uninterrupted time to think and write. It would be difficult NOT to be productive. It is always interesting to have working artists respond to my work; often times they bring up questions I have not thought through (we all made at least one presentation to the group). I also drove through the area for five days after my residency ended. The highlight was getting a personal tour of the Shoshone reservation by a great grandson of Chief Washaki (see the attached photo of a Shoshone grave marker). Wyoming is beautiful, but there is also enormous rural poverty–alongside multi-million dollar ranches, often owned by people whose primary residence is out of state. Stunning, but unsettling, too. Bellagio is a place of unimaginable beauty. It is at the top of Lake Como, just below the Swiss border. Parts of the main villa date to the 16th century, and the accommodations are luxurious. A previous resident of my suite was John F. Kennedy; no one would reveal who was staying with him at the time. The environment here is very intellectual; some of my fellow residents were very high powered, including a law professor who had previously served several presidents; a chap who is the head of the Nigerian branch of PEN International, and winner of a $100,000 poetry prize; heads of important not-for-profits, etc. I arrived in Italy a week early to take in the Venice Biennale; about five days of being completely saturated with art. I had been to both places previously: Ucross in 1994; Bellagio in 2000.
Can you tell us more about your photography exhibition? Did your recent travels to South Africa inform the artistic direction for this show? It has previously been shown in three South African cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pietermaritzburg, in a non profit gallery, an academic African Studies gallery, and at an art museum, respectively. Different questions were generated at each venue. Basically, these photos provide a counter narrative to the documentary photography that recorded the struggle against oppression in South Africa, showing how people were capable of developing strategies of self presentation that transcended the restrictions of racial classification. Another revelation of this body of work is that it shows how people moved easily between binary categories of rural/urban and traditional/contemporary. Some even challenged gender stereotypes. It is an unprecedented view into people’s private lives. The New York version will present fewer images, and the curatorial strategy will be different because the American audience will not be familiar with many South African phenomena, that will have to be explained to them. Also, as “co-organizer,” I am working with more people, whose input must be taken into consideration regarding every major decision. A challenging, but I hope ultimately, a productive experience.
What are you most looking forward to upon returning to the ARAD program? How will your experiences this past year influence your instruction of ARAD students? Frankly, I can’t even make my mind fast forward to September 2016 yet. I hope that many of these experiences and projects will find their way into the classroom.
Who I Am: Rediscovered Portraits from Apartheid South Africa
June 2 – September 3, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, June 2, 6pm-8pm
Exhibition Tour and Talk with Dr. Dubin: Saturday, June 4, 2pm
The Walther Collection Project Space
526 West 26th Street, Suite 718
New York, NY 10001
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