Grantee Spotlight: Toni Blackman (The Cypher Workshop)

The September 20th deadline for our current cycle of Community Arts Grants is only one week away! Keep following our Grantee Spotlight series as we catch up with previous BAC grantees to learn more about the kind of work this funding can help support, and what these artists and organizations are up to now.

Photo of Toni against yellow wall

Credit: Jamel Love

Artist: Toni Blackman

Toni Blackman is a multidisciplinary artist and hip hop activist who uses workshops, collectives, podcasts, and performances to encourage others to share their own work. Her Cypher Workshop, a bi-weekly freestyle rap, encourages participants to open up and gain confidence in their creativity. Rhyme Like a Girl, a collective for established and aspiring female MCs, promotes positive images of women in hip hop. 

Why do you make art?

I’m most dedicated to music, but also dabble in theater, writing, dance, and poetry. I’ve always been an artist. I’m one of those creatives that would suffocate without art. It is not a choice for me. I must create art, so I have multi-disciplinary projects, collaborations, and endeavors that help me to breathe freely: inhale creativity, exhale creativity.

What has your BAC grant helped you accomplish?

I partnered with a hot new venue for my granted public event, and the success of our event led to a long term relationship that has brought so much life to all of my work as an artist!

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Grantee Spotlight: Sarah Nicholls

We’re two weeks away from the application deadline for our current cycle of Community Arts Grants, due September 20th! Follow our Grantee Spotlight series as we catch up with previous BAC grantees to learn more about the kind of work this funding can help support, and what these artists and organizations are up to now.

Artist's book Lavender and evil things

Pages from the pamphlet Lavender and Evil Things, 2016

Artist: Sarah Nicholls

Sarah Nicholls makes artist books, illustrations, and prints, often with letterpress and linoleum block printing. The scope of her work also includes guided walks at Dead Horse Bay, research for informational pamphlets, and more. Her limited edition artist books are in the collections of institutions including the Brooklyn Museum, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania.

What sector of the arts do you dedicate yourself to and why?

I make artist books. I enjoy bookmaking because it is both visual and verbal. I enjoy that books are sculptural objects that ask you to touch and manipulate them; that they combine time, narrative, and formal qualities, all in a portable format.

What has your BAC grant helped you accomplish?

Funding allowed me to publish three pamphlets about Jamaica Bay, hold an artist talk, lead a walk in Dead Horse Bay, and an exhibition in Jamaica Bay of the entire cycle of work. Continue reading →

Meet the Artist: Abdul Badi

Here we interview Abdul Badi, an East New York-based painter, about his work over the last 50 years.

Abdul Badi

Abdul Badi

Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
I’m actually born in Washington DC, and wound up in Brooklyn back in 1964. East New York – I’ve been out here since 1988. I’ve lived out here, but I hadn’t met a lot of other artists out here until Catherine opened up Arts East NY, and then I was surprised to see how many other artists actually lived out here. I participated in [the Go Brooklyn Arts Gallery] competition 2 years ago, where they visited everybody’s studio, and in East New York, I was the only artist out here. The other sections – Bed-Stuy, Greenpoint, Williamsburg were chock full of artists, but East New York? Up until then I didn’t really see much on the arts scene. Everything I did was outside of East New York.

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MEET THE ARTIST: Ian Lyn

Our featured artist this month is Ian Lyn, an East New York based photographer.
Image
Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
I’m originally from Brooklyn, and I’ve been a resident of East New York since 1997.

How long have you been a photographer?
On the level that I’m on now, about 2 years.

Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?
The fact that people need to document their lives, the daily things that go on around them. Also I find art makes people happy, and that’s one thing that I do, I like to see people happy.

What else or who else inspires you artistically?
Really, my family, friends, other photographers, other artists. I’m new and I’m kind of learning my contemporaries. But as far as looking back to the past – of course there’s Gordon Parks, several painters, and my peers around me who push each other to do art or photography projects. I also credit God, my wife, and my children.
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Meet the Artist: Natacha Ikoli

Our artist of the month from BAC’s Registry of Brooklyn Artists is filmmaker and video artist Natacha Ikoli. Currently based in Brooklyn, Natacha was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and moved to France at age 5. She was a 2013 BAC Community Arts Grant recipient. We sat down and asked her a few questions about her practice.

MYBODYMYSELF Poster

MYBODYMYSELF Poster

Natacha is a video artist, observer, non-fiction storyteller and documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn. Cinema vérité style of documentary making, themes of social ascension, emergence of leadership classes and gender identity have inspired her work as a filmmaker and artist. In 2005, she created a video installation exploring dementia and voyeurism, putting the viewer in the position of the unwanted observer.  The piece, titled “Le Horla,” is based on the popular French writer Guy de Maupassant’s eponymous short story.

In her documentary film “Bana Congo Oyé,” Natacha explored the impact that the term “évolué” has had on today’s Congo collective unconsciousness. The term was used during colonial times to define a group of educated Congolese men who “evolved” and were trained to take part in the civilizing mission of the Belgian Congo. The film, set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and shot over a five year period, looks into the challenges and struggles of a middle class man in a country still recovering from decades of war.

Natacha’s focus is on telling stories through observation like an anthropologist; decoding issues of identity, gender, and origin that spark debate. Her goal in her current video installation– MyBodyMyself– is to break the linear cinematic narrative by including the viewer in the construction of the story– encouraging women viewing the piece to share their story and therefore add to the discourse.  Natacha uses the surrounding environment and incorporates the space as an element in the narrative structure.

Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?

I was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Paris. I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 and have always lived in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene area.

How long have you been a practicing artist?

I knew very early on that I wanted to tell stories with videos. I created my first video installation in 2005 and then went to work for a U.N. agency making communication videos for a while before making documentary filmmaking and video art my focus. I starting filming a documentary film set in the Congo in 2007.

Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?

Growing up I watched a lot of television, mostly Japanese manga and American TV series from the 70’s. I was fascinated by the power that movies, series and animes had to transport me, and was always drawn to uncover how the magic happened. It was only during my first year in college in Paris, while I was studying cinema and performing arts, that I was introduced to filmmaking movements like the New Wave and immediately adhered to the counter culture that it stood for at the time. Jump cutting and therefore breaking a movie’s visual continuity felt to me, like the most revolutionary thing that ever happened based on the little movie watching experience that I had at the time. It completely challenged my vision about what a movie is and what it could do. Once in London, studying media and video production I became introduced through my studies to artists such as Bill Viola, Bruce Naumman, filmmakers Jean rouch, Jim Jarmush, Federico Felini and authors Judith Butler, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. These figures and their work led the way to discovering and being inspired by filmmakers and video artists who challenge the story telling structure and thrive on leaving some details unexplained.

MYBODYMYSELF INSTALLED IN PROSPECT PARK, 2013Projection in the port Meadow Arch in Brooklyn

MYBODYMYSELF INSTALLED IN PROSPECT PARK, 2013Projection in the port Meadow Arch in Brooklyn

What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?

My mother still lives in Paris, France, where she works as head housekeeper in a hotel. She single-handedly raised four children and supported me in my career choices, encouraged me to pursue my passion but really pushed my siblings and myself to secure a degree. She never judged my choice to do something she didn’t really understand.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I studied cinema and performing Arts at the Université Paris 8, in Paris before transferring to London South Bank University, in London for media and video production.

What inspires you artistically?

I’m inspired by the random things of life and social issues related to gender, identity and sexuality. Reading is usually the first step in my process, whether it’s reading a research paper, a fiction or non-fiction book, a news article or a blog entry. For MyBodyMyself, for instance, I was in Singapore when I came across a second hand book store that was selling a book titled “Every Women Medical Guide Book.” I purchased the book and immediately became fascinated with the way women were represented in it and told– with what seemed to me a dated and patronizing tone– about their sexuality and their body. That book was the beginning of a search to create something that would carry women’s voices that demystified their bodies.

Which other artists inspire you?

Jean-Luc Godard and Terrence Malick are both filmmakers that I admire. I believe they challenge the cinematic experience and juxtapose images in ways that are often seldom seen, the way they use sounds and delivery of the story is always unpredictable to me– their movies never settle for the establishment.  I am also always greatly inspired by the installation works of Bill Viola and Bruce Nauman.

What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is my place for inspiration– particularly BAM Rose Cinema for its eclectic movie programming and retrospectives– bringing back movies of the “past” and watching movies of “now”— I believe helps foster creativity since one must be imbued with what’s been masterfully done to be inspired.

Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a “day job” and what is it?

I’m not able to solely support myself with video art making. I freelance as a video editor and producer for nonprofit organizations and U.N. Agencies.

How did you get started presenting your work publicly?

MybodyMyself is my first public art project and I initially started looking at ways to break prevailing taboo around issues of female sexuality and the body. I also wanted to spark debate as well as challenge people’s ideas and conception of what occurs in a woman’s body over the years. It was clear to me that this project should be in a space where a lot of people could come across it and reach the largest and most diverse kind of people. I like the idea of conversing with the viewer and having the viewer contribute to the piece by adding their perspectives. I like the idea of interactivity with the viewer.

Meet the Artist: Carly Bodnar

Our artist of the month from BAC’s Registry of Brooklyn Artists is Carly Bodnar, a visual artist working primarily in oil on canvas. Originally from Eugene and Portland, Oregon, she now paints in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Anxiety over the body, over the very material of the flesh, is a primary impetus in her art making. We sat down and asked her a few questions about her practice.

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT 2012, oil on canvas, 48" x 38"

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT 2012, oil on canvas, 48″ x 38″

Occupation/Titles/Discipline:

Painter

Artist Statement

I am a visual artist working primarily in oil on canvas. My work concerns flesh and the figure, with overtones of anxiety and obsessiveness.

Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?

I’m originally from Eugene, Oregon. I’ve had my studio in Greenpoint for over a year and a half now.

How long have you been a practicing artist?

I guess that depends on how you want to define “practicing.” I started to create and show a coherent body of work outside of a class/school context in about 2007.

Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?

“Artist” has always been my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” except for a brief phase when I thought I wanted to be an interpreter for the United Nations. Luckily (or unluckily?) nobody ever felt the need to crush that impulse.

What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?

My mom is an office manager and my dad’s a carpenter and house painter. They’ve always been incredibly supportive. My mom, when she was a kid, had artistic impulses that were squashed, and my dad is a skilled maker of all sorts of things, so those are obvious factors. I’ve gotten a lot of practical support from them: business and financial advice from my mom, and hands-on making-stuff skills from my dad. They’ve also been really emotionally/psychologically supportive; they’re both pretty entrepreneurial and independent, so I’ve always been encouraged to go my own way and figure out how to live my life, career and otherwise, on my own terms.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Portland State University and got my bachelors with a double-major in Fine Art (Painting/Drawing/Printmaking concentration) and Spanish. I also spent a year studying abroad in Spain, and although most of my classwork was linguistics and literature with a little art history (no studio classes), I think that time was immensely influential to my artistic development. It was then that I started working in oils, but more importantly it was an opportunity to just paint what interested me and experiment with styles and ideas outside of assignments or deadlines or a rigid schedule.

What inspires you artistically?

Looking back over my work, it becomes clear that my friends and acquaintances are a big component. I remember when I was in the process of moving to New York, asking a friend-of-a-friend who lived here if she would be open to modeling for me, and being surprised at the nonchalant nature of her answer. People here just seem so open, and being able to generate my own copious photographic references has really opened new avenues into my being able to make work about the body, which is my core artistic interest.

Which other artists inspire you?

Lately I’ve been looking a lot at Alex Kanevsky’s work, the fragmentation of his figures and spaces. I also really love Robin Williams’ work with her sort of suggested, bizarre little narratives. I’ve been following Aleah Chapin for a little bit now, too. Her technical skill is amazing but her intent behind the work is also very much in line with my interests. Looking back a few years, though, Jenny Saville was the first artist whose work I really connected to intensely. I remember the first time I saw a piece of hers, just a little tiny image in a magazine, and even in that scale being struck by the power she wielded in the way she used the paint itself and the (female) figure – both elements that are still both very much in the forefront of my mind when I’m working. I remember having this sense of relief or validation, that the kind of paintings I wanted to make is not only possible, but also legitimate.

What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?

My favorite art museum is the Brooklyn Museum, which I’m lucky to live close to now, but I don’t necessarily go there when I’m in need of inspiration. I try to get out and see work in galleries. Sometimes it’s inspiring, but sometimes it just makes me angry, and I’m generally terrible at making a regular habit of it. Really, the city itself just has great energy. If I’m in need of a creative boost, getting out and walking or biking around will usually do the trick.

Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a “day job” and what is it?

I don’t. And my first reaction is to say “I wish,” but in reality that’s not true. I’ve sold work, but I think for where I am right now in my career and development as a painter, it’s really good for me to have a source of income that is totally independent from my artwork. Financial pressures often feel really corrosive with regard to my ability to trust my gut and take leaps of faith when I’m making work. Since I do need a ‘day job,’ restaurant work has surfaced as the option that is least detrimental to my ability to make work. I’m happier waiting tables than I was in a 9-to-5 situation. The schedule works better for me – I’ve always been a night owl, but now I can go work a dinner shift and then paint all night without a problem. And restaurants are full of all sorts of creatives building their careers, so that camaraderie is a plus.

How did you get started presenting your work publicly?

I’ve applied and submitted to things, but it seems like the opportunities that tend to work out for me are the ones that somehow find me, not the other way around. In Portland, I had work in two galleries that both found me because I had one tiny piece in a huge group show. My show in the Bronx came about because a coworker had a contact at an art space up there. I got roped into another show by a studio mate. And recently, I reconnected with Nicole Salgar, with whom I worked briefly for another artist when I first moved here, and who has started curating some really awesome group shows; I’m going to have new work at CultureFix in January as part of the next show she’s putting together.