The Oral History Project
Since 2014, BOMB’s Oral History Project has staged one-on-one interviews with New York City-based visual artists of African descent, conducted by curators, scholars, and cultural producers.
The Oral History Project is dedicated to collecting, developing, and preserving the stories of distinguished visual artists of the African Diaspora. The Oral History Project has organized interviews including: Wangechi Mutu by Deborah Willis, Kara Walker & Larry Walker, Edward Clark by Jack Whitten, Adger Cowans by Carrie Mae Weems, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe by Kalia Brooks, Melvin Edwards by Michael Brenson, Terry Adkins by Calvin Reid, Stanley Whitney by Alteronce Gumby, Gerald Jackson by Stanley Whitney, Eldzier Cortor by Terry Carbone, Peter Bradley by Steve Cannon, Quincy Troupe & Cannon Hersey, James Little by LeRonn P. Brooks, William T. Williams by Mona Hadler, Maren Hassinger by Lowery Stokes Sims, Linda Goode Bryant by Rujeko Hockley, and Janet Olivia Henry & Sana Musasama.
The series is sent via email to more than 18,400 readers and is available, free of charge, in BOMB’s searchable online archive. Upon completion, each oral history is posted on BOMB’s home page for a month where it can be viewed by any one of BOMB’s 1.5 million annual readers. Over 140,000 viewers have visited BOMB’s website for the sole purpose of reading the Oral Histories.
Advisory Panel: Sanford Biggers, Thelma Golden, Kellie Jones, Odili Donald Odita, Lowery Stokes Sims, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Stanley Whitney, and Jack Whitten (in memoriam).
The Oral History Fellowship is a one-to-two-year post-graduate editorial fellowship offered by BOMB Magazine with a goal to organize and publish interviews by artists of the African Diaspora who are based in New York. The fellow’s responsibilities include managing production, editing multiple drafts of manuscripts, transcribing audio recordings of interviews, fact-checking, conducting biographical research, and producing one to two public programs inspired by the Oral Histories.
Current Fellow: Stephanie E. Goodalle
Past Fellows: Evan Coles, Terence Trouillot
Partnerships: The Oral History Project has partnered with New York cultural institutions including the Brooklyn Museum, Pioneer Works, 651 Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) to facilitate workshops and group discussions. BOMB’s Oral History Live! is a restaging of the one on one interviews that inform the written oral histories. In 2015 we featured James Little in conversation with Dr. LeRonn Brooks at the Studio Museum in Harlem. BOMB’s Oral History LIVE! with Maren Hassinger and Lowery Sims took place on September 29th, 2018 in the Zora Neale Hurston room of the Harlem Library. This event was hosted in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem.
The Oral History Fellowship is made possible by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Cary Brown & Steven Epstein, and generous individuals.
The Oral History Project is supported by Agnes Gund, the Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, Humanities New York, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this digital publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
If artists are not given the time and space to tell their own story, others will do it for them.
“When you’re an artist, you bring what you know, what you think, what you’ve experienced, your aesthetic, your ambition, and it doesn’t have to be conscious. In fact it shouldn’t be self-conscious. If the work isn’t speaking to you, if you’re not getting it from what you’re seeing, you’ve failed, and no amount of explanation is going to change that.” —Janet Olivia Henry
“Making our art is the purest thing we do. There are no hidden lies. My work is my truth as I have lived it.”—Sana Musasama
“I was motivated to pursue a way to change the conditions that were causing Black artists I interfaced with every day to say, ‘They won’t let us, they won’t let us, they won’t let us.’ I got tired of hearing that, and I said, ‘Fuck them! Let’s start a gallery!’ So that’s how JAM got started. It was never about being included.”
—Linda Goode Bryant, “Recollections, Linda Goode Bryant” in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
Pioneer Works and BOMB Magazine collaborated on a ten-week workshop for high schoolers from Red Hook Initiative celebrating our Oral History Project.
“Right, they weren’t paintings, they weren’t colorful, but I kept doing them because that’s what would come to me. I could have stopped, I suppose, but to me they seemed like good pieces and they were in line with my thinking. Artists do what they think is important to them in their life span. That’s what they’ve always done—Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Picasso. They did what they did because they thought it was important.”
The Oral History Fellowship is a post-graduate editorial fellowship offered by BOMB Magazine, with a goal to organize and publish interviews by artists of the African Diaspora who are based in New York.
“I didn’t want to paint figuratively. I didn’t want something that was overtly referencing the social issues around me, but I wanted to find a way to describe them. How do you internalize this? How do you make a form that forces a painting to be an experience that is not necessarily easy to see, handle, or look at?”
“The reward is getting through the tough stuff. And that’s what’s perplexing about the art thing. When I was going to school there were kids that could draw their asses off. There were kids that were better draftsman than me, for certain. But no one was more determined than me.”
“I don’t want to mention names, but there are several black artists that would like to shoot me today because they weren’t in that show. Some of them are dead, but the ones that aren’t dead still give me a lot of bullshit every time I see them.”
“I’m fighting between control and letting nature take its course.”
“It turns out making art was the best idea [for me]. My mother’s idea was good because it got me started. She said, ‘Look, you are skinny; you are little. You can’t hang out with your daddy and them big guys.’”
“My work was just like art history; it was all Velázquez, Goya, Cézanne, and Soutine. But when I saw Morris Louis I saw a way into the present.”
“I obtusely landed in the best place possible.”
“I just wanted to be sure I didn’t get caught not expressing what I thought was important to me. That can easily happen, because you can easily get discouraged by not being allowed to participate, or just being ignored, when you know your work is beyond ignoring.”
“We have to tell the truth in the image.”
“Photographers and artists are alchemists at the highest level, I think.”
Clark talks to his friend and fellow painter, Jack Whitten, about growing up in Louisiana, coming of age in Chicago, heady days in Paris, and living in New York City when the abstract expressionists ruled.
“I would like to do more of that kind of thing: travel, spend some time in a place and really work from a different vantage point. I don’t know what will happen in my work from that, but I trust my ability to find the tools to find my way into my work. I think I will sit out in the woods more.”
“The collage works are going to be life-size. My work increased in scale when I realized that I wanted people to enter the worlds or to see them almost like dioramas— these places that they could be immersed into, with their own social structures and their eco-systems.”