voguers, dirt bikes and marching bands in rashaad newsome’s miami art parade
The New York based artist put on one hell of an art performance during Art Basel Miami last night. He tells us all about it.
Particularly known for his works incorporating vogue ball culture, artist Rashaad Newsome took his performance pieces to a whole new level yesterday with a huge parade of dancers, muscle cars, dirt bikes, brass bands and his signature, customised Lamborghini Murcielago through the Design District of Miami during Art Basel.
The King of Arms Krew (Miami Chapter) Mass Processional Performance, follows on from the King of Arms Procession the artist staged in New Orleans in 2013, as a way of representing elements of African-American culture that all too often go ignored or under-appreciated by wider society.
i-D caught up with the man who's made album covers for Solange, was once "the unofficial Hood by Air video guy" and has created performances in collaboration with Alexander Wang.
What's your take on Art Basel and how do you feel doing your parade fits in with the wider festival?
The piece is part of an exhibition organised by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian called UnRealism. It's centred around this resurgence of representational art, sculpture, painting and they want to extend that idea into modern times, so they commissioned me to do this performance. When they first asked me I was sort of like, "OK well how does my performance work fit into this concept?" I was struggling with it, but then I started to think about representation, or lack of representation, and how the public sphere becomes a space for people who aren't necessarily being celebrated to celebrate themselves. I'm exploring this practice of mass processional performance, which is really synonymous with my upbringing in New Orleans. I grew up amongst parade culture.
Are these parades more of a Southern thing in the USA?
Processions happen in so many different places, but I know it personally from growing up in Louisiana, where there's a long history of parades and processions to do with Mardi Gras or to do with funerals. But then, when you think about parades, you can go to Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe. It just has such a long, vast history.
Can you talk about the different elements of the parade?
I didn't want to re-do the parade I did in New Orleans in 2013 and I've been working on a film this year about black motorcycle gangs and some of the guys I was in touch with for the film live here, so when I decided I was going to do the parade I knew I wanted them to lead. These guys take over the streets on dirt bikes and sport bikes and they do these incredible stunts. They're self-trained stunt men and I like the freedom in the way that they take space and I think that's something that's an ongoing conversation in my work - people taking space or having autonomy over themselves, what they do and how they represent themselves. It's actually illegal to do what they do, but by incorporating them in this parade they're able to do what they do legally and people are able to see it.
And how about the marching band and the voguers?
There's a Florida memorial marching band from a historical black college here that's a bit under-served. I was able to use some of the funds to make uniforms for them so now they actually have band uniforms. Then after them I brought down my vogue troupe who I've worked with for years now on several other projects and so we came up with some original choreography so they're going to perform all the way to end of the parade. Every parade has to have a float, so I always bring out the float with the Lamborghini. Rather than it just being my Lamborghin I invited other local guys who also have an interest in Southern car culture, and have some pretty elaborate cars, to ride with us in their muscle cars. Growing up in the South that car culture was one of my earliest exposures to self-expression.
Did you chose to stage the parade through the Design District for a reason?
It was chosen by the commission, but you know what's interesting? A lot of the bike guys were like, "Yeah we know the design district!" These guys know this area from before, when it was like a hood. In a sense, they've been pushed out, so it's kind of interesting for them to come back and take over the streets again for a day.
Talking about representation, what's your take on the art world? Do you think that there's not nearly enough representation across the board?
I think it's getting better. I think we have a general problem in the world in terms of representation, so if we have this problem in the world, it's most definitely present within the art world. Probably even more so because it's even smaller, you know. It's getting better but yeah, there's still a tonne of work to do.
You've featured vogueing in a lot of your pieces. Is there a certain place you think is really on point when it comes to vogueing at the moment?
Paris! That's actually where my house is, the House of Ladurée. The organisation of it, the precision, the way the dancers perform and just the way that it's integrated into nightlife. It's just amazing. Vogueing is something that has really been underground here for a long time but the culture has been able to spread like wildfire. I lived in Paris in 2005 and there was no vogueing scene or anything like that. Then I went back last year to document the growth of the scene and do some stuff with my house and it was like it had always been there. It was just like being in New York.
Where does it happen in Paris?
A lot of the stuff happens in the 10th, 11th, 12th. They do events all over, and the people who participate in it are also all over. Some of them live in the banlieues and some of them live in the centre.
How do you keep hold of your house when you're over in America?
We always do phone calls, emails. It's the internet age!
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Bryan Thatcher