Multidisciplinary Artist Rashaad
Newsome at MMoCA
Explosions of Iconic Meaning
|Top: Video still of Stop Playing in
Above: Rashaad Newsome
with him. That was kind of the earliest. Art is everywhere in New Orleans. It’s really just a part of your
upbringing. It’s like the creative costumes associated with Mardi Gras and things like that. It’s the music
on the streets and the painters on the streets to the living sculptures on the streets. That is in day-to-day
life, so it has always been there. New Orleans is a multidisciplinary environment.”
Newsome is a kind of iconic artistic revolutionary who uses the cultural icons of parts of the dominant
culture to turn the structure of that dominant culture on its head in a very subtle way, through beauty.
“I was living in Europe and I was looking at heraldry, which is essentially an image made of images that
communicate a distorted notion of power, a position within society of popular culture,” Newsome said. “I
was thinking a lot about the way in which advertising imagery is used. We’re in a very image conscious
time. We’re bombarded with images and moving images all day. All of these things are working, in a lot of
ways, to oppress a certain folk. Rather than using paint, pencil or whatever, I would use images from
popular culture to create images that sort of critique where these images come from in the first place, but
in a very subversive way.”
In some ways, Newsome expropriates European art to make a subversive comment about it, an
expropriation that European and American artists have done of African art and antiquities, particularly the
abstract and cubist artistic movements. Newsome uses these art forms again to make a comment about
“A lot of the images in my work are very much aesthetically in line with those histories of surrealism,
Dadaism and cubism, which are all pretty big movements having to do with abstraction,” Newsome said.
“However, how we come to know that is primarily from when Picasso went to Africa and started the most
notable piece that kind of solidified what we understand as cubism would be Le Demoiselle D'Avignon,
By Jonathan Gramling
The interdisciplinary artistic videos of Rashaad Newsome, who will
speak at MMoCA on August 11 to open an exhibit of his work, are
intense explosions of iconic meaning. They are like a 10-course meal
of exquisite tastes from different cuisines that complement each other.
But one must come back for additional sittings in order to consume the
whole meal. Newsome’s work is very tasty.
It’s little wonder that Newsome is an accomplished interdisciplinary
artist. After all, he grew up in New Orleans.
“When I was a kid, I guess that would be my earliest introduction into
performance work,” Newsome said during a phone interview. “My
father was a singer. And as kids, my brother and I used to perform
which is a piece that I recreated last year. In that piece, I incorporated a lot of those antiquities. What I find interesting is that people have gone
to that continent, looked at what was happening there, co-opted it, brought it back to the West, presented it to other folks as something else. And
then what is interesting is those objects then enter that market, but the actual person who created them has disappeared. The objects are there.
They have no agency. They are being controlled by those who acquired them in strange ways. By putting those works within the context of my
work, and like actually bringing them to life and having them look back at the viewer, do things and have a kind of day-to-day life. It gives them
some agency as a way to start to talk about the lack of agency surrounding those objects and the practitioners who make them.”
Newsome understand the dynamic nature of art and how the migration of people and the instantaneous nature of modern technology feeds and
“I don’t think that culture is something that lacks fixed boundaries,” Newsome emphasized. “It’s either the nature of culture that it is supposed to
evolve and change based on the people who come in contact with it. But I think it becomes a very complicated thing when the playing field on
which we are operating, there is not a need for one. And so, in theory, yes, everyone, particularly in America, that is the DNA of America, all of
these cultures together. All of these cultures are living together and sharing ideas and creating a whole new contemporary culture. But I don’t
know if that is real. That is the ideal. And I think that’s what we all want. That’s like the American promise. But there is a lot of work that needs to
happen for us to get there.”
What is important to Newsome is that the originators of the artistic forms get their recognition, that people recognize the roots and history of
particular art forms.
“I’ve done a lot of work over the years with and about the Vogue Community and oftentimes and what comes up is Madonna or the movie Paris
Is Burning,” Newsome said. “Don’t get me wrong. They have made a nice contribution to culture. But for me, it’s very important that the story that
I’m telling within the context of that culture that I am a part of comes from me and the people who are a part of it. It is a much more authentic
story. That’s not to say that other people can’t participate. But for me, that is very important because I think it is so important for cultural
producers to have some sort of agency over the culture that they produce. Otherwise they get erased in history. And there is an eraser that has
existed for a long time and we need to make sure that we don’t repeat that.”
Newsome will be arriving in and departing Madison on August 11th. In the future, he hopes to do something more extensive in Madison. But for
now, he is focused on his multidisciplinary exhibits that will be a part of the Dlectricity artistic explosion in downtown Detroit on September 22-
“It started out as a Nuit Blanche that would happen at night,” Newsome said. “And they would project video art on various buildings in
downtown Detroit. And it evolved and became more than just video work. It includes computer art and performances. They work with other
institutions like MOCAD and DIA to make this big festival that invigorates downtown Detroit. It is really extraordinary, I have to say. In addition to
my projects, which are pretty large-scale projects, there are 36 projects within Detroit.”
As a part of his projects for Dlectricity, Newsome will be working with community groups to put on The King of Arms Parade, harkening to his
New Orleans roots. It comes from the depths of Newsome’s artistic soul.