Charmaine Bee

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Artist Statement

My practice is collaborative and emphasizes ritual that simultaneously explores and creates discomfort, remnants of an experience and healing. I use materials such as smoke, dust, and temperature adjustment in order to impact spaces in a way that makes the viewer aware of their body and its position within space and time. I am drawn to materials such as rice, sugar and indigo – materials charged by histories of building economy via subjugation of black and non white people.

1200 / 2015 holding space for a reality we are told not to see is a dense, uncomfortable, quiet, loud, performance ritual considering the sublimity of racial terror. I began working on this piece after the death of Sandra Bland and after reading Okwui Enwezor’s The American Sublime and the Racial Self. Through the use of sound, smoke ( burning pots of rice and sugar), sculpture and performance, I examined the contradictory tension between the reality of racism and what we are societally told to see and accept as that reality. Through collaborative process I worked with two other black women and we had conversations about mourning, joy and how these deaths at the hands of police were affecting us. What can the women and I conjure in the space and How is it possible to fill the space psychologically and with minimal objects were questions that came up as we talked. We created a 45 minute performance movement in response to these conversations. At the end of the performance viewers were left with remnants of the smoke within their clothing, which created a loop of carrying the space and ritual with them after leaving.

Why we cant be friends is a sculptural installation using burnt sugar sculptures. The sugar is placed on the floor and can be walked on. pulverized burnt sugar made into a dust to be blown throughout the viewing space is also a part of the installation. The intention of the sugar dust in this piece was to function similarly to the smoke, leaving remnants of a history/ occurrence with the viewer even if they are no longer in the installation space.

I am currently expanding upon a project I began last summer where I drove through the Southern United States, revisiting sites that were listed in the Green Book travel guide for Negro motorists. The Green Book guide provided safety information for African – American travelers, including hotel, tavern, beauty supply listings etc, with they hope that racially targeted violence could be avoided.