Coleman Collins

I’m driving on a highway in France. There is barbed wire all around me. I want to know why.

The work starts in this moment. The things I make are always an attempt to make sense of the world. I am interested in the structures that undergird society and how I might be able to locate my role within them. As an American, descendant of slaves, and part of the African diaspora, I’m constantly thinking about the violent systems of domination that brought my condition into being. I study these forces: capital, trade, technology. Then what this knowledge activates in me affectively: desire, a sense of longing. A sense of loss.

Beyond this lack, though, I absolutely must insist on a certain type of self-reflexivity. I grew up solidly middle-class in a family that stressed the importance of education, hard work, and respectability politics as strategies for success. How can I reconcile the very real gratitude I feel at having inherited skills for coping with the status quo with my resentment for their necessity? In a similar vein, many of my works are attempts to explore the relationship between African-ness and American-ness. I’m constantly trying to understand the complex relationships that exist within the larger idea of “diaspora”; how my specific history and access to culture and power might privilege me in comparison to black people in other contexts. Though I grew up in America, the decade I spent playing professional basketball abroad put me in numerous situations where I was forced to re-examine my assumptions about kinship and citizenship. Accordingly, while my work may be said to deal with identity, it seeks to explore this identity not as a fixed, immutable category, but rather – to paraphrase Stuart Hall – as the way I am positioned by, and position myself within, the narratives of the past. In a similar way, the work often attempts to tease out the dialectical tension between two seemingly opposed terms: object and image, African and American, past and present, freedom and captivity.

These oppositions are themselves a construction; it’s never a simple question of in or out. All around us are gaps (décalages) – between this and that, you and I, us and them. She has finished the aria; the crowd erupts. There is an apology taped to the wall of the museum.

She has finished the aria; the crowd erupts. There is an apology taped to the wall of the museum.

I’m driving on a highway in France. There is barbed wire all around me.