Show Me Your Shelves is a two-city exhibition featuring Black artists from Germany and the US. First in Detroit, followed by Houston, the show brings together artists reflecting on existing common structures and experiences, as well as differences, between German Afro-diasporic cultures and lifestyles, and African American perspectives. Bree Gant is a Detroit-born multidisciplinary artist, dancer, educator, and documentarian reimagining future histories. C& spoke to the artist about her practice, cities as natural phenomena, and the fantasy narrative she will present in Detroit, written with domestic and religious artifacts from Black womenfolk.
Contemporary And: You’re an artist who works across photography, collage, performance, and installation. How have you progressed across these mediums?
Bree Gant: I was raised an image-maker, shaped largely by my parents, by arts programming at Detroit Public Schools, by and pop culture in the 1990s and early 2000s. And I’ve always used whatever medium is available to me. I understand art as an approach, a way of doing things, and I think working across multiple disciplines and mediums helps refine my voice as much as mastering one craft. In a way it makes room for me to be my own craft, and working across disciplines allows me to share and engage with a broader spectrum of folk and different dimensions of self.
C&: You make work about your city, Detroit, but also in nature. How do those different elements affect you personally and how you make art?
Bree Gant: Cities are not separate from nature. Humans and our machinations are natural phenomena. Understanding this continuation has been fundamental to my practice. Most explicitly with photography and social documenting, that separation often manifests as ideas of objectivity and transcendence, convenient truths supporting extraction and appropriation. My presence behind the camera is as much a part of the image as what’s in front of it. Detroit continues to teach and make a way for this deeply integrated work.
C&: How would you define your position as an artist and individual within a global Diaspora?
Bree Gant: I am a daughter of Detroit and the Diaspora. I really appreciate the writing of J. Matory, a professor at Duke University, where he says “diasporas create their homelands.” Detroit is a motherland, and I am an active agent in this home-making, growing branches and roots with my practice and being. As a Detroit native and Howard University graduate, the Diaspora is life, a tangible, factual experience, not just theory or history or concept. My identity is not founded in relation to nation and borders, but rather to people and culture.
C&: What draws you to the concept of Show Me Your Shelves?
Bree Gant: I love libraries. I went to K-8 and high school within walking distance of the Detroit Public Library main branch. After the gas station, it was the first place I walked to without supervision. The library remains a source of both care and agency for me. And I understand Show Me Your Shelves as a potential for libraries to provide that care for the Diaspora, and how we relate to each other. It wasn’t just Black bodies that were scattered across the world – our history was, too. I think a proper home requires a proper archive, and there are so many great artists rethinking what archives that center Blackness can look and feel like. I am so happy to be included in this exhibition, this movement.
C&: Could you share with us your ideas for your work in the Show Me Your Shelves exhibition?
Bree Gant: I’m creating a fantasy narrative, written with domestic and religious artifacts from Black womenfolk. The work is a new study of old conversations with ancestors, and growing from my vessels self-portrait series. The installation stills a moment of ritual, outside of time, and invites viewers to question ownership and access.
Show Me Your Shelves! presented by C& took place in Detroit Public Library (Main, Skillman, Parkman), Detroit, United States, from 17 July 2019 to 18 August 2019. In Houston the exhibition will be open from 30 October until 26 November at Gregory School Library.
Bree Gant is Detroit bred and multidisciplinary artist committed to documentary, portraiture, performance and film. She is also a event producer and fashion enthusiast.
By Will Furtado.
This text was commissioned within the framework of the project “Show me your Shelves”, which is funded by and is part of the yearlong campaign “Wunderbar Together (“Deutschlandjahr USA”/The Year of German-American Friendship) by the German Foreign Office.