I chose to photograph in Harlem in a way that mimics my recent studio practice. Treating Harlem as my studio, I walked the streets between 110th and 125th and found cast-off objects in the trash. Putting the objects together, I built temporary sculptures and photographed them against exterior walls of the neighborhood. The process of recycling and reinventing addresses the idea of making something out of nothing and speaks to the current global issues of salvaging our planet.
Walking up Lenox Avenue, I saw a couple swept up by music. They danced for everyone and for themselves. On 125th Street the music spilled out all over the sidewalk and ran beneath my feet. Listening to the cadence of the people talking on Sugar Hill made me want to stop and listen—stop and look—and see. At night, when the street goes quiet there is a slow kind of music. The air is filled with an invisible color that is only revealed to those who wait and watch.
I am essentially a tourist in Harlem. I live in Brooklyn, an hour away by train. I love it here, but I don’t live here. I come, buy a few things and leave. By taking the money that the Studio Museum gave me to do this project and going back to Brooklyn to spend it on restaurant meals, groceries and rent, I would have been taking money out of Harlem, which is not something I want to do in this economic climate. I knew there was a better way to use my honorarium—to reinvest—in a community that I love. Free Nuts: Reinvesting in Harlem is a project that I came up with to keep money in Harlem. I used the honorarium the Museum gave me (plus a donation from the generous art collector, Emma Hall) to subsidize snacks for Museum visitors from a roasted-nut vendor directly outside the Museum and to the left on 125th Street. Her name is Piyara and if you bring one of these postcards to her from November 12–30, 2009, she will give you a free bag of nuts. Enjoy. This project was made possible by the generous support of Emma Hall.
Yellow girl is an index of many things at once: contemporary urban street art; graphic signage visible throughout many countries in the Global South; and the fading art of hand-painted signs in New York, now eclipsed by a visual culture dominated by monumental digital images and high production values. This image illuminates many of the formal concerns and drawing histories that shape my work. Its graphic line quality, clear presence of the hand and portrayal of an iconic femininity are all critical elements in my own practice. Yellow girl is rooted in the genealogy of drawing practices that inspire my work—a genealogy that continues to remain outside of the canon of art history.