Sunday, September 25, 2016

Catching Up with Artist Carla Hamilton

This month Carla Hamilton's work has been on display at The Red Mug in Superior. Her next show will be at the Duluth Art Institute in February. It seemed like a good time to catch up and see what else is happening in her world.

Sunday afternoon we met for a bit at Beaners in West Duluth. She began with a re-cap of her summer. "I was in Detroit this summer and fell in love with Detroit. There was art everywhere. We did AirBnB.... Madison, Ann Arbor, Detroit and the U.P. ... It was beautiful everywhere," she said, describing some of what she experienced including some spectacular murals. From here I got a preview of her upcoming DAI show.

"My next show is at the DAI in February, a collection of episodes that started when I was profiled last spring by the Duluth police," Hamilton explained. "I got stopped for 'walking while black' on Superior Street. This show reflects my feelings about what happened."

The aim of this show is not to bash the police, she said. "My goal of this show is not to bash the police. My goal is to create uncomfortable conversations and create dialogue. We can't change things if we don't talk about it." True dialogue, however, makes us uncomfortable.

What I found especially intriguing is that Carla did not just accept what happened. She took action to make this into a learning opportunity for the police. "I have since had mediation and good open dialogue. I felt heard. Most of the police involved were open to critique."

Two of the piece that are currently on display at her Red Mug exhibition reflect the new direction she is taking with her art. Carla Hamilton had been living in the Washing Studios initially when she returned to the U.S. from Germany, but now lives in a house in the East Hillside area. "I have a house now but don't have the space (for making art). I'm working in my garage." When I ask what she's currently working on, she replies, "I currently have some old maps. I'm doing a lot of prep and organizing things. I have 600 slides from one source and am using these for ideas. I don't know what I'm going to do yet but am letting them percolate.

"Making frames and stretching canvas... Getting bloody knuckles." Laughs, shows me her hands.

Her theme at this time is, Hate Equals Fear, Fear Equals Hate.

"You don't have to do anything wrong to get arrested," she said. "I get stereotyped all the time."

"How are you addressing this in your art?" I ask.

"I'm hoping to create a dialogue. Maybe it will offend you or maybe not, but I'm going to put it on the table."

She's hoping to throw a little humor into it, which will "hopefully make it easier to approach or discuss it. Topics included prohibition, opioids, the stereotypes we have with each other. These assumptions we have... disadvantaged or successful.... assumptions about people that are all wrong."

"How did living in Germany change how you see America?" I ask.

"That's a loaded question. It made me see that a lot of Americans live in a bubble," Hamilton replied. "A lot of Americans feel really self-righteous and entitled."

Her upcoming show came about like this. "I approached Annie Dugan when the Gorilla Girls were here. I had a piece in the Great Hall and we talked... and I wrote a small proposal and now we're here."

The racism she has experienced is not readily observed. "I grew up in Wrenshall and we had to be friends or you didn't have friends. The racism here resulted in getting beat up... I would get spit on with parents around. Even as bad as I was treated it was nothing compared to what I saw with Native Americans and how they were treated." Can we fix it?

"We can start to. You can be yourself and work on yourself and hopefully that will work out. I try to model it for my son, and am willing to say, 'That was wrong.' It's hard to be hated." She followed this with stories told about being typecast, about stereotyping... "Everyone wants to put you in a drawer. I don't like being defined this way."

* * * *
I, for one, am looking forward to Carla Hamilton's upcoming show at the Duluth Art Institute. If you are here in the Twin Ports, Carla's work current work is on display at Red Mug in Superior. I would encourage you to take a lunch there sometime this week and enjoy the great salads, sandwiches, wraps and soups. Special thanks to Suzanne for her support of the arts.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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