Interviewed by Rosalyn Spencer
Rosalyn Spencer: How long have you been pursuing a career in the art field?
Kesha Bruce: I earned my BFA in painting from the University of Iowa in 1997 and my MFA from Hunter college in 2001, but like most people I’ve loved art-making since I was a child. The main difference is that I decided, at the age of 16 that I wanted to make art my career. For the most part I think I chose art because it seemed to offer the most freedom and possibility. I didn’t know what type of artist I wanted to be, but I knew I had the need to create things. I also had no idea exactly how to actually become an artist, but I was lucky enough to have the support of my family as well as some great mentors along the way.
RS: How would you describe your aesthetic for art? How do you use the themes of connective memory, spirituality and personal mythology in your work?
KB: The main thread that connects all of my work is my love of storytelling. I am fascinated by the telling and retelling of things and how a story can be transformed each time it’s retold. My process for exploring an idea is completely intuitive. I see, read, or hear something and it somehow resonates with one of my own stories or memories. From there it’s really just a small leap to begin thinking about how to turn ideas into images.
My current studio practice is now moving into directions which include sculpture and assemblage. I’m intrigued by the raw visceral properties of found objects. I’m fascinated by how simply combining these objects creates powerful narrative possibilities. But, ultimately I’m drawn to ancient mythologies and magical-spiritual belief and the question of their place and relevance in contemporary culture.
RS: What defining moments helped shaped your outlook on your aesthetic for art?
KB: I honestly can’t recall specific milestones. My intentions and creative process have transformed themselves time and again over the last 20 years, but all of that happens in a very seamless and organic way. I’m constantly finding things out inside the work. I think perhaps non-artists have this idea that there are these dramatic “ah ha!” moments happening in the studio. That’s never been the case for me. My way of working is more about letting the work unfold. It’s about finding and discovering things in the process. It probably doesn’t sound very sexy, but I don’t have many defining moments while working. Instead, a fly on the wall would probably witness passing moments of joy, confusion, curiosity, and sometimes aggravation.
RS: What do you believe are some milestones and moments that helped change the art scene due to the contributions of artists of color that you may feel have been overlooked?
KB: Lorna Simpson being invited to represent the United States in the Venice Biennial in 2015 it was a really proud moment for me. I’ve loved her work for many years, so to see her honored and recognized in this way felt like a personal win. I feel like I’ve been aware of her work for forever, but I specifically recall seeing her work in-person for the first time at the Guggenheim as part of the Hugo Boss Prize exhibition in 1998. At the time I was a graduate student desperately struggling to finish my coursework while working odd-jobs to pay my sky-high NYC rent so I could spend more time in my studio making paintings. Just seeing her work presented so beautifully brought me so much joy and hope. She was an inspiration both then and now.
RS: What are some of your experiences in the world of art as a woman of color that have led to your perspective of the art scene?
KB: Every year I go to art galleries, museums, biennials, and art fairs all over the world. The one commonality I always notice is the lack of women of color in the audiences and in terms of work being shown. It’s a very sobering reality to see that work by artists like myself is not being shown or sold at the level it deserves. As an artist you have to find a way to understand and acknowledge this fact and decide to make your work anyway. For me, this makes every day I walk into my studio and make something an act of hope and also defiance.
Kesha Bruce creates richly textured and visually complex artworks that explore the connections between memory, personal mythology, and magical-spiritual belief.
Born and raised in Iowa, she completed a BFA from the University of Iowa before earning an MFA in painting from Hunter College in New York City.
Kesha Bruce has been awarded fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), The Vermont Studio Center, The CAMAC Foundation, and received a Puffin Foundation Grant for her work with Artist’s Books.
Her work is included in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture,The Amistad Center for Art and Culture, The University of Iowa Women's Center, The En Foco Photography Collection, and The Museum of Modern Art/Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection.
In addition to her studio work, Kesha Bruce is an independent curator and founding Director of Baang + Burne Contemporary Art in New York City, having produced 8 international exhibitions since 2008.
She lives and works in the US and France.