Episode 30: Edgar Arceneaux
By Weston Teruya May 9, 2018
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Weston Teruya welcomes artists, arts administrators, and cultural workers of color to get real about their lives, practices, and careers. Each episode is an in-depth look into how art gets made, but more importantly how these folks are seeing to the system of art’s (UN)making.
In this episode, I talk with Los Angeles-based artist & educator Edgar Arceneaux. In our recent episodes, we’ve looked at the role of cultural organizing and community building to hold space in neighborhoods being destabilized through gentrification. With this conversation with Edgar, we shift slightly to look at place as both a physical site for relationships and a temporal landscape of memory and history. We talk about his work Until, Until, Until --which centers on Ben Vereen’s fraught blackface performance at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 televised inauguration celebration--as well as his initial thoughts about a future project looking at the lives of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, otherwise known as Milli Vanilli. With these projects, Edgar explores concepts of absolution, redemption, and the participation of audiences and institutions in exploitative systems. Edgar also reflects on Watts House Project--an arts-based neighborhood improvement project in the community surrounding the Watts Towers--his initial goals for that work and wrestling with the aftermath when things came apart.
I also highly recommend reading Anna Martine Whitehead’s conversation with Edgar as part of her Endurance Tests series with Art Practical to delve more deeply into the complications of grappling with blackface minstrelry, particularly in our current political context.
Edgar Arceneaux is an artist working in the media of drawing, sculpture, and performance, whose works often explore connections between historical events and present-day truths. He played a seminal role in the creation of the Watts House Project, a redevelopment initiative to remodel a series of houses around the Watts Towers, serving as director from 1999 to 2012. His work has been featured at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Performa 15, New York; and the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, among other venues. Arceneaux is also an Associate Professor of Art for Roski School of Art and Design at USC; he lives and works in Pasadena, California.
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This episode is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency.