Friday, 7 November 2014

Interview with Megan Morgan, Artisanal Vanguard

Pushing boundaries in life can sometimes be out of necessity...

There's a plethora of benefits that modern day technology offers us, one of which is the ability to connect with people all over the world. I became acquainted with Megan through a Facebook page sometime time back and simply relished her body of work. Megan’s masterpieces push barriers with her thought provoking, artisanal varied media and forces us as a human race to acknowledge and appreciate our unique differences.

“Dark Desires: The Erotic Lives of Black Women” on exhibit from October 1 to November 16, 2014 at the Centre for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, CA will showcase a selection of Megan’s work. I would highly recommend a road trip to San Francisco during that time, as Megan’s work should genuinely be seen and appreciated in person as Megan offers this globe so much -- not only with her creations but also with her immortal essence.  Please follow Megan's awe-inspiring cerebral work via social media: Twitter, Instagram & Tumblr.  Furthermore,

Megan’s work has been published in: “The Image Of The Black In Western Art, Volume V: The Twentieth Century, Part 2: The Rise Of Black Artists” now available for purchase at Chapters.

BIO, Megan Morgan (1970’s; Paget, Bermuda)

Megan Morgan was adopted and moved to Canada as an infant. She attended the Carleton University school of Journalism before completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree Sociology, Geography and Anthropology. She completed her dual degree in Art and Art History at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College in 2009. She has lived and worked in many locales and currently resides in Sacramento, California. Morgan is a multidisciplinary artist who focuses primarily on photography, but her work also incorporates video, textile construction, installation and performance. Recent exhibitions of her work can be found in Toronto, ON, San Francisco, CA and Detroit, MI. She completed her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2012. Her work investigates the issues surrounding identity, femininity and place; specifically questioning the multitude of factors that influence these so-called terms. In 2007, she self-published a book about an installation and photographic series called “Significants”: Objects of Meaning, Loss and Reclamation. In 2014 she is especially honoured to have her work published in the Journal: The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V with an accompanying written work by the renowned artist and writer, Dr. Deborah Willis of N.Y.U. The works presented in this volume are Mrs. Black, Mrs. White and Mrs. Brown from 2011, they are large format 5’ x 5’ back lit C-prints which are now part of the collection of Dr. Kenneth Montague, owner of the Wedge Collection in Toronto, Canada. 

Megan Morgan, Dark Desires the Erotic Lives of Black Women Exhibit, 2014

Rania: What is your favourite art media to work with and why?

Megan: My favourite media to work with is collage. For the most part my work is photographic, but I dabble in sculpture, painting and textile work as well. With collage, I can incorporate all of those mediums. However if that is perceived as a cheating answer, then I guess I would have to say photography. Why? It is closest to my heart in terms of representation. Since my work is usually asking questions about representation, the camera is often the most logical way to work with it. Both digital and film photography can be manipulated and I find the qualities of light, both natural and unnatural to be represented best in this format.

Rania: At what age did you take your first picture and who or what was your subject?

Megan: I was ten years old when I received my first camera and I was thrilled. Embarrassingly, my first photographs were of my neighbour’s dog, flowers and sunsets on the beach, of course my friends and I being silly. I still have some of those somewhere in albums.


Megan Morgan, Work in Progress, 2014

 Rania: What camera do you utilize and why?

Megan: I have a few cameras, but none of them are anything to write home about. They’re good quality cameras from Nikon, Canon, Pentax and some antique Leica copies from Russia that I bought on e-bay. My first camera after the 10-year-old one was a Fuji Fine Pix point and shoot that had zoom and flash that I received also as a gift in the mid-nineties. I thought I’d really hit the big time then, since my first camera was manual. I have since learned of course that there is a real beauty and process when using manual cameras. I truly did not find my abilities and scholarship for photography until after 2003 when I decided to return to school for art, that is when I learned the most about cameras.

Rania: What is the best time of day for you to take photographs?

Megan: There isn’t a particular time that’s good unless I have an intention for the lighting that depends on the time of day. My studio is north facing, so it gets pretty consistent light all day long. However, I don’t always take photographs there. It depends on what I am working on. Emotionally and mentally though, the best time for me to take photographs is late afternoon and early evening.                          

Rania: Where did you study and what is your specialised field?

Megan: I studied Art and Art History at the University of Toronto and completed my Masters of Fine Art at the San Francisco Art Institute. At the University of Toronto, I studied all mediums and specialized in photography and sculpture for my final two years. At SFAI it was a similar experience. I explored all media and did a lot with painting, collage and video for the first two years and then came right around back to photography for graduation.

Megan: What is the Centre for Sex and Culture?

Rania: The Center for Sex & Culture provides judgment-free education, cultural events, a library/media archive, and other resources to audiences across the sexual and gender spectrum; and to research and disseminate factual information, framing and informing issues of public policy and public health. The Center for Sex & Culture aims to provide a community center for education, advocacy, research, and support to the widest range of people. They offer classes that are informational and experiential. They host classes and cultural events as well as offer space to other organizations and teachers. They seek to serve a nationally (in fact, globally) significant function, adding to the few accessible resources for sex education available to the public, not just academics or specialists. They have acquired various collections of books, papers, art, erotic material, personal collections from notable people within the sex-positive community, and other media.

Rania: Please tell me about your contributions for the upcoming collaborative exhibit; Dark Desires: The Erotic Lives of Black Women, which opens on October 1, 2014 in San Francisco, CA?

Megan: My contributions for this show are a photographic print as well as a 3 minute long performance video. The print is a type of performance related documentation. There is a book that inspired this work called “The Natural History of Man”. It is a few hundred years old and belonged to my Grandfather. In it, the author describes his travels throughout the world “documenting” the people, places and animals he encountered. Embedded thickly in all of this is an obvious hierarchy of the races. His depictions of women and particular, other women serve as soft pornography representations before the age of photography. His descriptions are even worse. He lists physical characteristics and mathematical equations describing the dilutions of racial mixings and it’s all very upsetting. His declarations are not surprising and he was certainly not alone in his pronouncements as a man of “science” during that era. These statements were widely believed throughout the world at that time, and still are today! This is part of what I want to call into the spotlight. It started there, but we haven’t progressed much further in the 21st century. In particular, there is a section where he describes the looks and mathematical equation of a mulatto woman. I used Styrofoam lettering to inscribe this phrase on my back. Then I sat out on the sun for 5 hours to burn it into my skin. I did the same thing on my stomach with another phrase. Then I documented the results.

The video is called “The Removal” and shows me taking off my make up after an hour and a half long yoga performance in an evening gown. What was originally meant to be a performance about yoga, ended up being a performance about removing our “masks”. It is narrated by a child who is describing a dream like figure that I painted in repetition around the same time that I was working on the video. The narration and the performance come together to ask the viewer to question what it is they are really looking at in the video. Is it really what it appears to be?

Rania: What was the selection process used for the pictures you submitted for, Dark Desires: The Erotic Lives of Black Women?

Megan: The curator, Crystal A. M. Nelson put out a call for submission based on recent work we had made or were making with the title Dark Desires in mind and a focus on the subject of the black female body as opposed to the object of the female body. She encouraged submissions of all types, particularly those that question the parameters of normality and the varied human experience, which included race as a hyper influencing factor. I submitted several pieces for consideration, all from within the Natural History Series as I believe it is some of my most powerful work today along with the video and I was very pleased to be accepted into the show. It is uncomfortable for most people to talk about race. It is uncomfortable for most people to talk about sexuality. Crystal has bravely asked the artists and viewers of this show to boldly embrace both in an intelligent, interactive and considered way.

Rania: In a world where women are consistently objectified, this upcoming show really fosters the concept of empowering all women of colour regardless of orientation -- as a bi-racial woman how has this affected your body of work?

Megan: I can’t say that this show has affected my body of work as much as I could say it has validated it. I don’t think that my work is particularly risky or out there, however, when I have shown some of this work before I have heard people gasping and they rush over to ask me if I really did that, if I really burned those words into my skin. I was surprised at their surprise. Of course, I’m an artist and artists push boundaries, that’s how they get their point across. As a bi-racial (actually, multi-racial, I recently had a DNA test completed) woman this situation brings up several things. In the United States I am seen as a black woman, period. In Canada, where I grew up and lived most of my life it was a constant “What are you?” Canada’s sense of identity is so loosely defined and I embraced that in my youth and part of me still admires it now. It’s how we imagine the world to be or more truthfully, how we want it to be. We all think we are free of prejudices and biases, but we’re not. This bias naturally reveals itself racially; sexually; socially; academically…you name it. It doesn’t mean we’re all horrible people, it means we’re a product of our environments and educations and we have to work on ourselves to change it. It’s not easy work to do. Due to my looks I am apparently open fodder for strangers on the street to query my ethnic background. I have relatively fair skin, but very curly, coarse hair and ruddy pink cheeks. I literally still get the question “What are you?” several times a year. It seems only natural that my work continues to explore what these definitions mean. How important is this information and to whom is it important?

Rania: Why is it important for you to be one of the contributing artists for Dark Desires: The Erotic Lives of Black Woman?

Megan: It is important for me not only because I am a female artist of color, but also because it is making a statement. We are saying that we have created this work, these images, these words and we have experienced the situations that brought about this work. For a long time, too long, the images and experiences of women of color have been controlled and dispersed into mainstream culture by people who have no idea what it is actually like to be black and female. This show is one way to take back that control and firmly steer how our voices, likeness and experiences are presented to the world.

Rania: What do you feel are some of the identity issues that women of colour still face in our modern world?

Megan: I read an interesting article recently where the author was talking about how the sales of relaxer have dipped dramatically in the last ten years. More and more black women are embracing their natural hair textures and refusing to change the fundamental structure of their hair to please an overwhelming majority that for so long could not handle the appearance, concept or existence of coarse, curly hair. This is a hot topic within the black community. Are you more black if you don’t relax your hair? It’s ludicrous. However, one of the challenges we still face is that of stereotyping and our own in-fighting. Squabbling about hair just brings everyone down. Women need to support one another, there is enough adversity in the rest of the world to deal with.

On another related topic I saw a call recently for models and actresses for an urban music video. It blatantly described A, B, C and D type women. You can probably guess where this is going. Type A’s were to be light skinned, mixed race, with long hair and size 4-6 and wear high fashion. Type D’s were to be dark skinned, over weight and wear too tight clothes. I kid you not. I realized that just because I remove myself from the world of crude music videos that continue to promote a hyper-sexualized black woman, curated females made to order for a particular type of man or life of privilege, or not. These crude ideas and representations don’t just go away. I could go on forever here as you must know.

Basically, the challenges of identity that all women of color still grapple with are fighting the stereotyping and negativity and being able to educate yourself enough and believe in yourself enough and have a support system to help you to get to that place where you don’t believe the lies, that you refuse to accept what you are told and find out for yourself just how special you are! Believe you are worth more for what’s between your ears than between your legs or how you look to other people. At the same time, we need to erase the shame of natural, healthy sexuality that all women and men for that matter are entitled to. It always seems to go back to the Madonna/Whore complex. This is no different really for all women. The exception is though, that black women have been hyper-sexualized for so long that they are often raised in one extremely polarized environment or another. Church girl or slut. Truthfully, no-one is this way, we have been prodded and pushed into a diabolical corner until we are forced to choose. There is no real choice in that! There is no truth in that! This is something that every woman needs to find for herself, to break the cracking mould and discover her own feelings, desires, representations and self-expressions.

Rania: The art world can be at times quite unforgiving, what is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your vast experience?

Megan: The most important lesson I have learned and one that I am still learning is that it takes a lot of work and perseverance to make this happen. No one is really paying you to do this. I have been fortunate to have my work purchased and it has been exhibited in some important places, it’s been featured in some books and I’ve had some national and international recognition. However, I have a full time job. Most artists teach or have to do something else as a “day” job to get by, pay their bills and still be able to afford to make art. You do it because it is a calling and you can’t not do it and if you can get to a point where you can live and live well off of the proceeds of your art work you are one of a very select and envied few. The fantasy that I think all artists have about how they want their life to be doesn’t really exist. If you are uber famous and sought after you have teams of people helping to make your work to keep up with demand. Many artists question the legitimacy of this. If you are being chased by famous galleries and collectors sure, they usually offer lots of financial incentive, but perhaps they dictate to you more about what you should be creating, how you should be creating and when it should be done. I’m not trying to be negative, being an artist is immensely fulfilling. What it is though is also a struggle. You have to be prepared to do this for the rest of your life. Are you prepared to do this? I ask myself this question regularly and sometimes I make myself just go to the studio and sit there and think, or read, just to be in that space and to keep going. In my mind, there is always an idea brewing, but realistically you have to create the work consistently for it to go anywhere. Networking and putting yourself out there is also immensely important, and since many artists are painfully shy, this can be one of the hardest things to do. If you know or are related to important people, this will never hurt your art career.

Rania: Where would your inspiration fuelling travel destination be and why?

Megan: I love to travel and have been fortunate to have travelled throughout Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. It would be amazing to see the world, all of it! Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, New Zealand, the Middle East – all the continents if I can. The world is such a huge place and if I can find inspiration from my limited travel experience, can you imagine what the rest of the world holds? The thought takes my breath away.

Rania: Who would you like to collaborate with for you dream exhibit and why?

Megan: That list is so long! Xaviera Simmons, Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Deborah Willis, Betty Julian, Michele Pearson Clarke, Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Jackson, it’s impossible to narrow down to just one. I don’t really have one dream exhibit, but rather a team of people that it would be phenomenal to have my work associated with and to know them and their minds. It would be even more phenomenal if it could take place at the Tate Modern or the Guggenheim or Bilbao. Documenta or another world’s fair famous type exhibition would probably be about as good as it could get.

Megan Morgan & Julie Vetro, Collaboration,
Invite for the Liminality show, 2012

Rania: All artists experience a creative block in one way or another. How do you contend with yours?

Megan: Funny enough, I have only ever had one creative block in my life. My struggle is the time to get them OUT while balancing a family life, a full time job and a teaching schedule. The one time I did struggle was in my final year of grad school. I had previously experienced a good degree of success in my program and I was happy with my work, but then…what? I still had 9 months until graduation and I didn’t know how to move forward. I was floored. About a month into this I came down with a scary, mystery illness. I won’t get into too many details, but suffice it to say that I missed a great deal of work and school. I was very uncomfortable, often in pain, spent a lot of time going to doctors appointments and all in all spent about a month in bed and another month of recuperating very slowly. That near one month in bed snapped me out of my block. By the end of that time I had done so much sleeping, soul searching, thinking and reading that finally, FINALLY I had my next move. I woke up in the night to write it down on a piece of paper. I think I had physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted myself and the illness forced me to stop and really take a look at myself. Once I did that, the scary mystery illness gradually moved on and so did my work.

Megan Morgan, "The Texts", inspired by the
lives and writings of Susanna Moodie
and Mary Prince which is also included in the
Liminality group show at Gallery 1313, 2013

Rania: What advice would you provide an emerging artist?

Megan: Give up the fantasy now. Don’t do it for a perception of glory or recognition that you’re thinking or hoping is just around the corner. Just work really hard, but have fun with it! School makes you take things so seriously, which is fine, because if you want to be a professional you need to know the time and place for everything. However, the reason you’re in art is because you love it, you’re drawn to it and it is part of who you are. Don’t let the critiques or the perception of feedback destroy what is inside you. You’ll grow, even from the comments that seem devastating at the time. It’s your ego getting crushed, not you, not your actual work. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, but even famous artists get raked over the coals in newspaper reviews to this day.

Also, get your rest and eat well. Artists are famously associated with psychiatric illnesses and hosts to numerous other afflictions like melancholy and depression. I think we’re just prone to this happening because we get so caught up in the work we forget to eat, sleep and take care of ourselves. We eat what’s handy and fast and usually stay up late. When I get an idea going I can work for hours without stopping. It’s only if I lose light or suddenly feel faint that I realize there might be a problem. If you do that on a consistent basis, you are harming yourself. Treat your practice like a job. You have to legally take breaks at your job, so take breaks in your practice too!

Megan Morgan, "We say to each other and to you",
The Liminality small group show at Gallery 1313,
Inspired by the written works and relationship
between Susanna Moodie and Mary Prince. 2013 

Rania: If you had a super power what would it be?

Megan: To slow down or freeze time. Sometimes there are moments that are so good you just want them to last forever, or just a little bit longer. Time seems to go faster as I grow up. When you’re little everything moves at a snail’s pace! To me there is never enough time to accomplish and do all the things I want to do. Meditation helps me feel like I’m slowing down time a little bit. Come to think of it, taking photographs kind of freezes time doesn’t it? Funny that.