Chakaia Booker discusses her unique style in Sculpture
Old tires and broken toys are not the first things that come to mind when presented with the idea of sculpture. We tend to think of lavish sculpture gardens of marble and bronze — the perfectly crafted cherubs and women that the first sculptors wrought. However, with clear beauty and clean lines comes a price — marble and bronze are not the most feasible materials for a young artist in New York, a problem Chakaia Booker was forced to address. She discussed her solution to this dilemma, a much more untraditional medium — a product of economic necessity — in a lecture this past week at the Kniznick Gallery in Brandeis’ Women’s Studies Research Center. As a young woman in New York with plenty of ideas, but a threadbare wallet, she chose to take in the world around her — the trash-strewn New York City of the 1980s — and use it to build her ideas into reality. Booker’s work melds life and art down to its core parts: each piece making up each sculpture is an object previously rejected, left for trash on the street, and Booker reinstates these objects into society by giving them new meaning within her works.
Throughout her talk, Booker walked around the audience, allowing for a lively, inclusive experience for the attendees. Booker facilitated discussion between viewer and artist — something not always accomplished in a standard lecture setting. By moving, Booker invited the attendees to view her work while still calling attention to herself, allowing a more intimate view of the piece and Booker’s own feelings on the piece. Her movement made the work and discussion of it feel more sincere; she broke the intimidation that comes with meeting an artist of her caliber by moving herself into the conversation between the art and the viewer. As Booker discussed her work, she discussed many of the people and events in her life that prompted these pieces, allowing the attendees to take part in her work more intimately than we would have been able to in a museum setting. Rather than coming off conceited, Booker’s discussion felt fluid and candid, allowing for a deeper interaction with the pieces she presented.
Booker started the lecture by discussing what first prompted her to create — her discomfort in the clothing her mother bought for her. This discomfort, coupled with the cooking and sewing she learned from her sister, prompted her to create very elementary versions of the art she would later produce. She explained the way she would rip the seams and recreate clothes that she felt more comfortable in and thought she looked better in — this would be her first venture into artistic philosophies that would later charge her sculpture.
At one point during the lecture, Booker addressed her current personal style and the way she feels it is a reflection of her current art. Booker explained that the way she drapes the turban she adorns each day is constantly changing — each day she sculpts herself and then proceeds to sculpt the world around her. Each piece of the artist herself is sculpted, allowing for interaction with the world, which Booker also believes is made up of tiny pieces of art — all the tiny, ephemeral scenes in each person’s daily life. Booker’s study of these moments has culminated in pieces expressing everything from a gynecologist’s visit to witnessing a woman in the subway struggling to hold onto her baby’s stroller while juggling many different shopping bags.
Booker’s candid discussion of what has shaped her art — the cooking and sewing she did as a young child and her tight financial means as a young woman — was to-the-point and clear. Her lecture helped break down the gnarled sculptures she creates into its core parts — tires and material other people deigned trash — giving insight and adding meaning to her ominous works.