“I will learn from the master, then I will break the form”: how Tiona Nekkia McClodden extended her role from artist to cultural historian

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Tiona Nekkia McClodden, who first gained recognition for her work as a filmmaker, is enjoying a moment of well-deserved praise in the art world. Perhaps most notably, the artist has received critical acclaim for I prayed to the wrong god for you his contribution to the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Today, with a solo exhibition at David Zwirner’s outpost at 52 Walker Street, an extensive curatorial presentation at The Shed, and an installation on display at MoMA, McClodden’s momentum and impact are more palpable than ever. .

McClodden’s commitment to deciphering the complexities of society through visual media was sparked from an early age, and his love of film and mining history in various forms goes back to a source familiar to many: the public television.

“I was a PBS kid,” the artist recalled in a recent interview with Artnet News. “I watched a lot of documentaries and the first form of cinema I wanted to do was documentary cinema.” The Philadelphia-based artist also pointed to her father’s purchase of a set of Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic magazines as a particularly eye-opening experience during her formative years. “I don’t know if people still know what it is,” she added with a laugh.

The artist also recalled often seeing her father take pictures and have them developed throughout her childhood. In the end, it was she who had the camera in her hand, as evidenced by old family photos. “I have several pictures of me as a child with a camera, and I actually remember taking the pictures that I have,” she said.

Installation view, “Tiona Nekkia McClodden: MASK/CONCEAL/CARRY,” July 13-October 8, 2022, 52 Walker, New York. Courtesy of 52 Walker, New York.

Today, with a broad practice comprised of film, installation, painting and sculpture, McClodden interrogates constructions of race, gender and sexuality with acute precision and care. A practitioner of the Afro-Cuban religion, Santería, the exploration of spirituality also features in her work. The artist is deeply interested in examining shared ideas, values ​​and beliefs across the African Diaspora, something she calls, “Black mentifact”. Mentifact, a term frequently used in anthropological fields, generally refers to the cultural traits of a group of people.

“It helps me stay respectful of a basic knowledge of black intellectual thought through age, background, etc.,” McClodden explained. The artist’s ongoing research around black mentifact has also led her to reflect on the boundary between truth and fact. “What someone will tell you about something that happened is usually very different from someone showing you documentation of something that happened,” she explained. “I like it and I like the truth.”

McClodden maintained a relatively high profile in the years leading up to this current trio of offers. In 2018, she completed a residency at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Maine and received the $100,000 Bucksbaum Prize. Award for her work at the 2019 Whitney Biennale. She also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2019 and is a recipient of the 2021-23 Princeton Arts Fellowship.

Like much of McClodden’s “MASK/CONCEAL/CARRY” work, playing at 52 Walker until October 8, is imbued with a tangible sense of tension. The show revolves on a phrase from the bodybuilding world – “training to fail” – which holds that in order to progress, you must carry more weight than you can handle. Although the title of the exhibition may initially evoke conversations about gun politics in the United States, this body of work is, in many ways, an introspective and intimate reflection.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Precision, despite a menacing silhouette, 2022 (still). © Tiona Nekkia McClodden. Courtesy of the artist and 52 Walker, New York.

Drawing inspiration from McClodden’s experience obtaining his gun license two years ago, the show debuts a new series of paintings, a handcrafted chainmail face covering and videos . On an eerie score with deep blue lighting filling the gallery space, the climactic installation deals with dichotomous ideas of rage/sanger, masking/unmasking, concealment/disclosure.

In a recent interview, Ebony L. Haynes, Senior Manager of 52 Walker, detailed the multiplicity nature of the exhibit, right down to its title. “Every word has multiple meanings and can be applied in a very formal, very abstract way,” she said. “Whether it’s hiding something, carrying the weight of something, hiding something, or hiding.

The pair, who first met in 2018, worked together when Haynes included McClodden’s film black./womyn.:conversations with african lesbians (2008) In It successful program “EBSPLOITATION” at the Martos Gallery. Widely considered the artist’s seminal work, the film features interviews with nearly 50 black lesbians, and aimed to facilitate intersectional and intergenerational dialogue on the representation of black lesbians in media and society.

Haynes spoke about McClodden’s craftsmanship and his dedication to the work and research behind his art. “I’m constantly amazed at how much effort and time she puts into thinking about the best way to present the work,” Haynes recently shared.

Equally important to McClodden’s work are her curatorial practice and her commitment to scholarship and writing (she is also a recipient of the 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant). At The Shed, McClodden curated the exhibit, “The trace of an implicit presencewhich delves into contemporary black dance in America, inspired by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 1983 Dance Black America festival.

Co-produced by Nike, the presentation revolves around a multi-channel installation of video portraits, with each screen accompanied by a custom dance floor. Spectators are encouraged to use the floors and document themselves by doing so at any time during the exhibition. McClodden also developed a series of programs alongside the show, including conversations and performances of many of his featured subjects. An event invites members of the public to participate in a dance class led by subjects Audrey and June Donaldson. The couple will teach a popular black social dance, and the official dance of Philadelphia, called the Philly Bop.

Installation view, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation (2017).  The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Digital image © 2022 The Museum of Modern Art.  Photo: Robert Gerhardt.

Installation view, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation (2017). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital image © 2022 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Robert Gerhardt.

Meanwhile, the McClodden facility, The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation, now on view at MoMA, is a dedication to the late poet, whose work questions notions of sex and violence through his lens as a black homosexual. For the installation, originally created in 2017, McClodden created a video in which she recites Johnson’s 1988 poem “On Subjugation,” while suspended in her studio. Surrounding the video are materials that reflect the poet’s personal history and sexuality, including rose petals and leather objects used in BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism).

“I’m going to learn from the master and then I might come and do something that breaks the form,” McClodden said of his practice in a recent video produced by The Shed. And her ability to complicate and innovate, both formally and conceptually, while honoring origins, means that McClodden continues to expand her role in the art world, from influential artist to historian and cultural guardian.

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