ISSUE TEN | SPRING 2018
Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo is an artist, arts educator, activist, storyteller, and curator who lives and works in Oakland, California. Branfman-Verissimo’s work is informed by her commitment to craft and community, her engagement with society, and interests in storytelling and cultural geography. Through the processes of story collecting, printmaking, painting, and sculpture building, she strives to re-create and re-tell her personal tales and those of the people that surround her. These tactile, process-based mediums reflect the multi-layered complexity of the voices echoed in her work. Through interacting with her art, viewers are prompted to recall and tell their own stories, offering power and weight to the creation of a larger dialogue. Her solo exhibition, AS BRIGHT AS YELLOW, opens at Deli Gallery in Queens, NY on May 12, 2018.
Danielle Wright: So, I was just on your website and thinking about all of the identities that you’re bringing to the table. As a queer, Jewish American, Afro-Brazilian young person, what was it like growing up in L.A. for you?
Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo: Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about like my upbringing recently and the effects that it’s had on me. Where to begin? I mean, I have a lot of friends that are moving to L.A. from the Bay Area right now.
DW: Oh, funny.
LBV: They’re always like, “It’s so spread out and big and I can only hang out with people in my neighborhood.” And you know, my mom grew up on the westside of L.A. and my dad lived on the east side and I spent a lot of time going everywhere. I think having all of those communities be a part of my identity influenced my work and my perspective as a person. You know, I definitely had friends in my local neighborhood, but I also had friends that I had to drive an hour and a half away to see. Just knowing I had resources in different parts of the city for different things; whether I’d be going to art camp in downtown L.A. or visiting friends in West Adams, it gave me all of these different perspectives of living. Yeah, I mean, I kind of have been raised to accept all of these different components of me and I love that. My life is complicated and my identity is complicated and, like, so what? If you don’t get it, then whatever. Screw you.
I LIKE TALKING AND I LIKE SHARING, BUT PART OF THE STORYTELLING IS THE ARCHIVING AND THE LISTENING.
As Bright As Yellow, Acrylic on canvas, indigo dyed fabric, photograph, Sizes vary. 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist
DW: Yeah, if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.
LBV: Especially as a mixed person, that was just something that I’ve always accepted. A lot of my friends are also mixed up kids and the acceptance of these cultures that we come from is something that we should be proud of. So, I see that coming up more and more in my work. L.A. … such a weird place. Everything has like a thin layer of Hollywood. Being in the Bay is such a breath of fresh air.
DW: Makes sense. Did you live anywhere else or did you come straight from there to live here?
Folded to Be Next to You, Limited Edition prints made with Play Press, 11” x 17”. Risograph Print. 2018. Photo by Tamara Porras
LBV: Mmhmm. Yeah, I was born in New York but moved to L.A. with my family pretty young. So yeah, the Bay Area was kind of like my second place to live in.
DW: I want to hear more about coming from L.A. and about different parts of your family. I also have so much curiosity about your name. You know, knowing a little bit about what it means and thinking about how it seems so connected to the work that you’re doing.
DW: Any origin story and information about your parents and where that came from …
LBV: My mom wanted “Lu” to be in the name after my great grandfather, her grandfather, who was an organizer and a great person and influence in her life. And my dad wanted an African name of some sort and so the story goes that I was born without a name. I was just “baby” because they were like, “We haven’t found the perfect name.” They went to The Museum of African Art in Manhattan maybe the week I was born, and there was an exhibition where there was a Lukasa on display and they were like, “Ah! That’s the name!” It usually has an “S” but they changed it to a “Z” just to make it a little bit more of their own. It’s a storytelling device that’s usually made out of wood and has nails and beads and different signifiers to tell different stories of that community. It’s from Zaire, which is now the Republic of the Congo. The Luba people were the people that could read that storytelling device. They’re super gorgeous, usually in a female figure shape, and they’re kind of like these vessels that hold stories. It couldn’t have been a more fitting name, especially as I take on the role of storyteller as a part of my identity as an artist. Just like you just gestured, it symbolizes so many crosses and overlaps and mixing within my own identity. All of these stories that I choose to retell within my own work, histories, family stories, and my own stories, and imaginary stories, it feels fitting that I’m carrying on that history.
DW: Yeah, that’s so neat that the name found you. And you came to it. That’s lovely. I need to do more of my own research into the Luba people’s culture, especially as it pre-dates colonialism.
DW: And it’s so neat to think of storytelling as not this sort of linear process, you know? Not that you read a single bead at a time or that each bead symbolizes something in particular, but that you read the whole thing in its entirety.
LBV: Yeah, the compilation, that together it becomes something. I’m also struck by the idea that not everyone in the community knew how to read it. That it was very specific. Only the elders and the storytellers in that community could read it. Yeah, so I don’t know, I’ve always been someone who honors the people before me and my elders, and so it feels like there are lots of good connections.
WE WERE IN SEDONA, AZ AND WITH MOSTLY WHITE PEOPLE AND ALL THE BROWN AND BLACK FOLKS WERE LIKE, “O.K. WE’RE DOING ALL OF THE EXPLAINING! LIKE, SHIT IS HAPPENING IN THIS WORLD AND NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IT EXCEPT FOR US.”
DW: Hm. That’s really interesting. I’m curious about whether it feels like the ability to read, understand, and tell these stories, whether the unique ways in which all of the different identities of yours overlap, helps you do that in a different way than maybe someone else would be able to read things, or tell the stories in the same way. Do you know what I mean?
LBV: Yeah. Hm! Well, that’s definitely possible. I was an only child until 20. I grew up with a lot of situations where I was at dinner parties with adults and spent a lot of time listening. I like talking and I like sharing, but part of the storytelling is the archiving and the listening. That’s seeped into my mind in different ways. Also, having all of these perspectives. I always think about the stories on my mom’s side. She’s white and Jewish-American and her story and family tree is very much preserved. Her people know their cousin’s names, and the cousin’s brother’s kid’s names, even though they were, you know, Communist immigrants from Russia. It was just a different way of archiving history. Whereas, on my dad’s side, he’s from Brazil, he’s Afro-Brazilian. We know as far as his mom’s great grandmother, but it’s all oral histories. There are very few photographs of him as a child. It’s just a whole other way of archiving and passing on stories. I’ve always been aware of that with family history projects. I have tons on my mom’s side, but I have to draw how I imagine my great-grandmother looking.
The New Story, For the Future, wood, chalkboard paint, acrylic, tools for the resistance. 5' x 3' x 2 1/2'. 2017. Photo by Sophie Lordes Knight
DW: Yeah, I think of how those different methodologies, or ways of saving, preserving, and archiving, meet and get expressed. You’re sort of working through what it means to do that. Thinking about all of the text in your work, I’m just curious about that, about something that’s visual and verbal at the same time. I’m curious about that in my own work, too.
LBV: Yeah, it’s interesting. I feel like people are like, “Wow, the text is like the new thing.” New-ish. I’ve been working on it for like two years now. And I’m like, “No! It’s not new.” I’ve been involving storytelling in my work for so many years, but it hasn’t come out in the form of text. It was a new challenge for me to be like, “Wow! I can use text.” People can read this literally, as opposed to being in art school and everything is super conceptual. When I first started doing text I was in a residency with Grace [Rosario Perkins] and just, like, felt sick of being the voice of the storyteller and sick of like brown and Black folks being the voice that had to explain all of these stories. We were in Sedona, AZ and with mostly white people and all the brown and black folks were like, “O.K. we’re doing all of the explaining! Like, shit is happening in this world and no one is talking about it except for us.” I made a series of big flags where the original text came through. I was like, 'I’m going to say what I’m thinking and what I want to say, but in this way that I don’t actually have say it.' I've played with that. Sometimes I’ll be deliberately saying something and I want to talk about it, I want people to read it. Or it’s in Portuguese and I don’t want anyone to read it, I only want my grandmother to read it.. Or it’s in Portuguese and I don’t want anyone to read it, I only want my grandmother to read it. That was kind of at the core. I was like, wait a minute: go back to listening and go back to other folks reading it, other folks doing the work that we’ve been doing our whole lives, and that our grandmothers have been doing, and that our great grandmothers have been doing.
DW: That was, Archiving in Red Dirt and Blue Sky?
Archiving in Blue Sky & Red Dirt, Indigo dyed fabric, cyanotype prints, 65" x 40”. 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist
DW: Yeah. Those are beautiful.
LBV: Thank you.
DW: You’re welcome. What you just said reminded me of your work, Falamos Pra Fora. It seemed like there were objects telling the story. Am I getting that right?
DW: I’m curious about chronology. Was that before or after the residency in Sedona?
LBV: That was before.
DW: Ok, yeah that makes sense, considering what you were just saying, too.
LBV: Definitely. Yeah, so that was a show that I had at E.M. Wolfman Bookstore, at their downtown store when they had a gallery there. I had been making a series of sculptures retelling my own family stories where the viewer would see the sculpture instead of the story. In my eyes, they were also seeing the story in this other form. Falamos Pra Fora means “we speak out” in Portuguese. I asked visitors to come tell me a story about resistance or about speaking out, and it was very loose. It was like their own story, a story that they hear, a family story, a memory. I recorded and wrote that story down and went to my studio and made them into sculptures and those sculptures were on view. So, I’m, like, thinking and challenging myself constantly about how we tell stories and wanting people to understand it and wanting it to be this thing that people work to understand.
DW: Yeah. I remember looking at your website and seeing like eight hours worth of storytelling. Was there more than that?
LBV: I had like three or four two hour sessions where people would show up and tell me stories.
DW: That seems like a lot to hold, too.
LBV: Yeah, it definitely was.
DW: Well, I’m really curious about how that experience was for you. I think witnessing and listening to people is … I mean, all of us who make time to embody that role know that it’s the kind of work, that emotional labor, that nobody appreciates but everyone relies on. I’m just curious about how that was for you and who came and talked to you.
I ALMOST THOUGHT OF IT AS PERFORMING THE STORYTELLER. THESE ARE PEOPLE’S STORIES THAT THEY’RE SHARING WITH ME AND WE’RE IN A GIFT OF EXCHANGE.
LBV: I feel like I can easily get into headspaces to listen to other people’s stories and not have it totally affect me. That's just something that I’ve worked on doing. Like, O.K. I’m going to go and sit there and be like open to stories that come in. I almost thought of it as performing the storyteller. These are people’s stories that they’re sharing with me and we’re in a gift of exchange. I can easily go there as a super caring person and a caretaker, but I have to get in another zone to listen to that amount of stories. Some of them were super traumatic or stories that they had never told anyone. I feel honored that I can be a person that can have this exchange, but it’s not like I really took any of them to heart, not in a bad way.
DW: Sure, sounds healthy.
LBV: Yeah, a lot of friends came to the session at the opening, including the owner of the bookstore, but mostly it was like random people. I had a table I set up for listening. It was a mixture of friends and family and random people. People open up, especially when they’re talking to a stranger. They don’t really know you, so people can either go all out or be really closed in.
DW: Do you speak Portuguese?
LBV: Not as well as I wish I could. I understand a lot, but I don’t practice. I need to take a class and get my conjugations down and give myself some power.
#takecareof, Limited Edition prints made by Play Press, for UNTITLED Art Fair 2018, 11” x 17”. Risograph Print. Photo by Tamara Porras
DW: I read in an interview that growing up you thought you’d be an architect?
LBV: Yeah, I still love buildings. I’ve just always loved buildings. I don’t know why! Again, I’m interested in how communities locate themselves and what they’re located in. I’ve just always been a huge mid-century modern buff, it’s so good!
DW: There are lots of examples of that kind of Architecture in L.A., right?
I LOVED THAT PRINTMAKING WAS MOSTLY PROCESS-BASED AND THAT’S STILL HOW I APPROACH NON-PRINTED WORK. BUT THE PROCESS IS WHERE IT ALL HAPPENS. THE FINAL PRODUCT IS GREAT TOO, BUT IT PROBABLY DOESN’T END THERE.
LBV: Yeah, definitely. My great aunt, who was a huge influence on me, died when she was almost 100. We had a young person/old person relationship that was super bonded. She lived in a case study home in West Hollywood and I would just go there and be like, “I love this!” I love sliding glass doors with, like, glass from floor to ceiling. I think that was one influence. I’ve just always been fascinated with structures and how things are built. And I have the same birthday as Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom I felt a very strong connection. I would come home from school and get pieces of cardboard and glue my own models together. And then I realized that you have to be good at math and I was like… nah! I hate math! I’m terrible at math! [laughter]
DW: It’s kind of cheesy, the “When did you start making art?” question, but it’s all connected. So were you doing studio art classes and all of that was happening at the same time?
LBV: Yeah, it was all at the same time. I’m so grateful to my parents for bringing me to free art workshops at local museums and signing me up for Art Camp. That was my true love for a long time. I was like, “I want to take art classes!” and my parents were like, “O.K. we’ll figure out a way!” I mean, I grew up going to this really cool alternative public school that had project-based learning, so I think that maybe had an influence on me. I was always turning to my creative side for school projects. That’s a tool that I feel very comfortable with.
DW: So how did you arrive at printmaking?
LBV: I did a little bit of printmaking in high school. I’ve always been fascinated by the influence of political prints and political graphics in printmaking. My family is super political. I feel like I’ve spent equal amount of time at protests as I have taking art classes. So, I don’t know, just being around screen prints from the 60’s and seeing all of this graphic work, I was always fascinated by that. In high school, I was figuring out how printmaking worked, and I loved that. I loved that printmaking was mostly process-based and that’s still how I approach non-printed work. But the process is where it all happens. The final product is great too, but it probably doesn’t end there. It probably continues. I did a pre-college printmaking program at California College of the Arts in high school and I was like, “Ah, I love this!” Then I ended up getting my BFA in printmaking.
DW: Cool. I’m curious about what you said about spending an equal amount of time on protest and art, and that being such a significant part of how you grew up and how you move through the world. Can you tell me a little a bit about those politics? Specifically, I think you mentioned your mom, but I don’t know if that includes grandparents, your dad, etc.
LBV: It’s definitely both. Kind of all sides of my family are talking about all of the complications of this crazy world. My dad was really involved in the Black Power movement of the 80’s in Brazil and definitely brings that, or brought that, to the table of my upbringing. Yeah, and my mom has a long line of activists in her family as well. My communist great-grandparents were definitely at the root of activism in that family, and it’s always been a strong part of who they are. So yeah, there’s no separation. There’s a constant connection, and also, how can there not be? I mean, my mom is a white woman being like, “O.K., there are a lot of fucked up things in this world and we’re going to talk about it. And I have the privilege to talk about this and your life is going to be different then my life.” So, I was definitely someone who was piecing things together and talking about them. Many of my friends also came from families that were union organizers and people who had community activism at the core of their work, so it definitely felt like something I could talk about.
DW: It’s so interesting thinking of that all leading up to this political moment that we’re in right now and seeing all the work that you’re making and hearing all of this backstory. You can hit the ground running, you know? It’s like, here’s the torch.
Growing Resistance, Oil pastel on Illustration Board, 30”x40”. 2017. Photo by Deli Gallery
LBV: Yeah, definitely. I remember starting undergrad around the time the Occupy Movement was starting. I remember arriving at school and being like, “I need to be in the streets!” And, of course, in the Bay Area, so many of my professors were like, “We’re not having class on Friday, everyone go downtown!” So it felt like the right choice to be in the Bay Area. It’s a privilege to feel comfortable in those kinds of spaces.
DW: Tell me about California College of the Arts (CCA). Did I see that you started a students of color association?
LBV: It was already going on, but I jumped in and wanted to be a part of it. It was interesting, art school and all of that world. Being a Co-Facilitator as a part of the Students of Color Coalition really shaped and made it the experience that I needed it to be. Throughout my whole time there, it really shaped and made it the experience that I needed it to be. Growing up with a single mother, me and my mom worked really hard for me to get here. I found professors that supported me and made safe spaces. It was an amazing experience for the most part although I question it as an institution, as we all should. It was during his time when I was like, “Yeah I want to be an artist, it’s what makes me feel the best.” Art school helped me realize that by allowing me to find a community of people. I did a lot of work in the community arts department and realized that there’s a long history of people connecting activism and art. I questioned a lot. I questioned people’s privilege in an institution like that, and learned a lot.
DW: That’s cool. I hear so many different things about people’s experience at school. It’s actually really refreshing to hear someone be like, “No, I worked my ass off to get here. I’m really glad to be here, and I’m also going to make it work for me.” There are a lot of people who, I don’t know, I mean no shade to them, but there isn’t the same, “No, I’m here and I’m going to make this work.”
LBV: With the Students of Color Coalition, I did a lot of work on campus where I was like, “Wait a minute. There’s so much here that I can work on.” We have power as students, so I did a lot of student organizing. I know you through the adjunct unionizing work I did with faculty, exploring questions about how students weren’t getting supported, and how everyone around me was paying thousands of dollars to an institution that’s wasn’t paying it’s teachers. That’s also fucked. I think that also fueled me.
DW: So, I know we talked about text a bit before, but I want to come back to it because I had a few things to draw out. I want to talk about text and story collecting and how you reflect that back to the world. It really resonates for me, this idea of asking someone else to meet you halfway in doing the work. I’m interested to hear more where the desire to archive is coming from and why it feels so critical.
LBV: No, it’s really good to go back and think about why I do these things because I’m in the studio and I’m like making, making, making. School was so good at getting me to pause and critique and talk about my work. And now I have to hold myself to that.
DW: Or you can have other people come in and ask you questions … [laughter]
I KEEP THINKING ABOUT HOW PEOPLE OF COLOR’S STORIES ARE NOT ARCHIVED. THAT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO ME. IT JUST FEELS LIKE THESE ARE THE STORIES THAT I WANT PEOPLE TO READ. I WANT THEM TO BE DOCUMENTED.
LBV: Oh, it’s so good! I guess, as an artist out in the world, I keep thinking about how people of color’s stories are not archived. That always comes back to me. It just feels like these are the stories that I want people to read. I want them to be documented. I was and have been inspired by protest signs for a while. I made a huge protest sign series but now it’s not even called a series because I feel like all of the text work I make is loosely inspired by that. I am raising a sign because I demand this and this is what I believe in! I stand for this. I can’t even believe that we still have to fight for these things. Why, in 2018, is the SFMoMA not full of trans women of color’s art? That’s what’s going on in my mind. There’s still so much that needs to be written down. There’s still so much to demand that people read and understand and think about, so that’s what I’m doing with all of this text work. I’m also really playing around with who understands this work.
DW: I was just going to ask, who is it for? Is it for everyone in different ways?
LBV: Yeah, I think it’s for different people at different points. I have a painting that just says, “No.” and it’s for everyone. I want everyone to read that. That’s something that everyone should read and hopefully understand, you know? And maybe there are some that only I understand or people who are living those experiences understand. There are definitely times that people are like, “Uh, can you explain what that is?” And I’m like, “No, I absolutely can’t.” And if you don’t understand it, that’s like …
DW: Part of it.
LBV: Yeah. Check yourself and notice that you don’t understand.
DW: I really appreciate that, especially that last part. It feels important to sometimes be against interpretation. I read somewhere in relation to the Pra Fora piece I think that 'The words are treated like objects and the objects are speaking.' I liked that. It seems like the form of how the stories are being told is evolving. I also want to talk to you about color and the challenges you come across, say, when you include text as people are naturally going to read it first before they look at anything else. I’m curious to hear how you’re navigating all of those challenges.
LBV: It’s interesting, during my thesis work, everyone was making work on paper and I was like, “No, these need to be sculptures! These need to take up space.” Post-school, I didn’t have any printmaking equipment, so I tried painting. I’m really loving it and it’s gotten me this far. Now, I’m like, “I don't want any of these to be hanging on the wall.” Some paintings that I’ve made I’m fine with them being on the wall if it’s within a larger space. I’m not making work to be hung on the wall. I’ve been approaching these paintings as sets for performances that tell these stories. ‘Cause I’m like, whatever, there are a lot of paintings that hang on walls and that’s great, I just don’t need to add to history in that way. That’s not something that excites me or fully tells the story. I mean, sometimes it’s right and that’s what happens and that’s O.K.
Last summer I was at the Vermont Studio Center residency for a month. It was an interesting experience. I started to really dive into the ways in which my body interacted with these works that I was making and myself as the storyteller and what it was like to put a body within this work. I also started to dissect what it meant to be making paintings, what do they become, and how are they shown? I did a lot of work in this huge studio (which was so great!) testing how my body was moving in and out of these paintings. I was creating sets that I would tell larger stories within. That’s something that’s super exciting to me right now. These paintings and pieces become larger installations that tell the stories. I’ve been thinking a lot about tools for a voiceless performance. Again, questioning all of these different ways of storytelling: reading a story, of someone telling you a story. How can my body be a stand in for these stories? In one piece, I’ve eliminated the text and it’s going to be a part of a larger performative piece that engages questions like, "Where is the text? Where is the storytelling and where is it not?" It’s a way to use the painted form that doesn’t necessarily end with making a painting.
DW: That sounds really exciting! Can you tell me about indigo and also the colors and shapes and how they relate to this setting that you’re creating?
Part White Sugar, Part Black Girl Magic, Acrylic, caulking, on canvas, 36”x24”. 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist
LBV: So the indigo and a lot of the blue that I use came out of the research I was doing while I was making my thesis. My grandfather had passed away during that time. You’re actually writing with one of his pens!
DW: Oh! Thank you, Grandpa!
LBV: He was like a father to me, someone who raised me, and was one of my closest friends. He was an engineer and always had a blue pen in his pocket. Always. When we were cleaning out his apartment after he passed away he had like boxes and boxes and boxes of those pens. It felt like this subliminal honoring of him, coding my practice with this color. That kind of carried on the habit and tradition that he had with blue pens. And at the same time, I began doing a lot of research on the history of indigo dye and it’s relationship to the diaspora that my family shares through the enslavement of African folks coming to North and South America. Indigo is also super trendy right now. I love it. Everyone loves the color and the mystery of the dye, but I also felt like the more I was using that color, the more I was honoring the roots of this history that no one knows about. Why are jeans blue? From indigo! From plantations in the South, from a deep knowledge of this plant and what it can do. I took a little bit of a break from using indigo this past year but I’m starting to reintegrate it into my work. One recent piece, it sounds cheesy, but I had a vision of it when I was waking up from a dream. It sounds like...wow, I’ve really been living in the Bay Area for too long [laughter]! And I was like this is totally something that I want to make happen. I’ve been making a lot of pattern work for a while now, like making my own abstracted version of kente cloth. I’ve been really interested in checkered imagery, like the classic black and white checker. A good friend of mine told me a weird story, I looked it up and I couldn't find any info on it, but I believe her, she’s a trusted source. She was reading in a history class that in Medieval times they believed that mixed children were born with checkered skin.
WHEN WE WERE CLEANING OUT HIS APARTMENT AFTER HE PASSED AWAY HE HAD LIKE BOXES AND BOXES AND BOXES OF THOSE PENS. IT FELT LIKE THIS SUBLIMINAL HONORING OF HIM, CODING MY PRACTICE WITH THIS COLOR.
DW: Oh! O.K. ...
LBV: It’s super poetic. In a way, it’s fucked up, but in a way that I'm really interested in. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the kente cloth and mixed up geometric forms that are so much at the root of African American culture in the United States. It’s this woven pattern of all these different threads that get put together. I was realizing that these woven cloths and these patterns could be a stand-in for the text that I was telling in the stories. This is one component of a new body of work for a show that I have in New York in the spring.
LBV: That’s where more color comes into play.
DW: Tell me about yellow.
LBV: Yellow … it’s here! I started making a lot of yellow work while I was in residence in Vermont and it was you know, an amazing month. I had a huge studio, I was very well taken care of, it was beautiful. I could jump in the river, it was green, it was great! But it was also located in an isolated town in Northern Vermont.
DW: You don’t say!
LBV: Yeah, wow! The whitest state of America! I love Bernie, that’s a great part of Vermont and Bread & Puppet Theatre, but everything else is pretty questionable. So I was there with a handful of other people of color but nobody really wanted to have any critical discussions. I was like, 'What am I doing here?' I thought this was supposed to be a retreat, a space for me to be inspired and make work. Great things came out of it, though. Yellow came out of it, brightness. I felt like I had to be really aware of how I presented myself in those spaces. I’d recently acquired this yellow leotard and I was wearing that in the studio, making work. I had this persona that I had to take on in that space. The bathing suit is a goldenrod yellow.
DW: It’s a beautiful color.
LBV: Yeah, and I was kind of challenging myself, like, O.K. yellow: it takes up space, it demands that people look at it. I was doing a lot of things that I think that color does. It was this point of brightness, and I was thinking a lot about brightness and of what it means for black and brown bodies to shine in this world, in this country, in Vermont. It takes a lot for us to shine, and it’s not necessarily something that comes naturally or is easy. But at the same time, I’m wanting to shine light on all of the people in my life that I feel like should have a spotlight, or should be fully funded, or should not be working around the clock so they can make studio time at night. It kind of flipped my perspective. In the toughest times we do great things and I feel like that happened. I locked myself in my studio and was like, this is my safe space, and I'm going to make this new kind of work. That’s where yellow comes from. I’m working on this new series where I’m imagining this alternative future universe, using the color yellow as the way of telling that story. In this universe, what we fought so hard for is here and we’re being supported. And queer trans people of color are at the forefront of this world.
DW: And you’re exploring what it looks like. That sounds exciting! It’s nice to hear other people think about what that world actually look like. It seems like there needs to be that generative space of imagining all of the possibilities and seeing where the different ideas start to overlap.
To Prioritize, Limited Edition prints made with A/U Press, 11” x 17”. Risograph Print. 2017. Photo by Tamara Porras
LBV: Not like all of the problems are ever going to be fixed. What would that even look like?
DW: I read that you dyed some things in turmeric. I’m curious about that and I’m wondering what else you used. I guess, this could be reading into it, but I wrote down this idea of choosing joy as a revolutionary act. I wanted to hear what you were thinking, whether the color holds that meaning too. And not just to shine the light on others like you mentioned earlier, but also whether when you’re radiating that, it’s a beacon to say, “I’m here” to other folks.
LBV: I kind of go back to the word “shining” because when people are supported they shine. I want that for my community. I want my community to shine in all ways. I hosted this get-together that was also a time for me to work. I invited friends over and asked that everyone wear yellow, partly because I’m making all of these components that will all be a part of this work. I had a few friends that came and I was like, “How are you doing?” and they were like, “I had a so-so day,” and like midway through, after being in a room that was a sea of yellow, people were like, “I feel so much better!” It’s a color that you see and you’re just like, “Ah. Yes!” There’s power in it, you feel comfortable. It shines in a way that other colors don’t and I’m interested in that. It demands a lot from you.
DW: But it’s also an invitation.
LBV: Ah, summer time, the sun is out. Yeah.
DW: What was the entry point for yellow or blue? What are the things that you discover about them along the way? What do the colors hold for you in your practice when you dive deep into them?
LBV: I found kente cloth through opening myself up to color. Even devoting my practice, and coding my practice in blue felt like, wow this is crazy! In undergrad I did a lot of printmaking, a lot of black and white prints. I’m not saying that I’m against color, but I’ve never been someone that dresses in bright colors. I still catch myself off-guard and will be like, “Ah, that’s a lot of color!” Doing more yellow work, it’s making me less afraid of colors. Using multiple colors has a power in and of itself. Like, “O.K. I’m just going to paint with pink, even though I never liked that color, it’s just going to be a part of it.”
DW: And sometimes, with diving deep, you end up discovering all of these things about the color along the way, in a similar way with text—there are all of these layers that you don’t always get at the beginning because you have to spend time with it.
LBV: Figuring out that I wanted to have a more performative part of these works was a turn. After being like, “O.K. I’m making this thing and this is the one way of storytelling that I’m approaching it with,” to being like, “Wait a minute. Stop and look at other ways to approach it. O.K., I’m literally going to put myself into this painting.” I didn’t necessarily have a plan for how I was going to get there.
DW: That’s cool. I know one of the other things that I see in the work, and maybe it’s because I share some of these experiences of thinking about color, is about being black, white, gray, brown, blue, and yellow. And all of what that means. I’m curious about dealing with those bits of the overlap between the color and identity.
LBV: I had a show where people were asking me a lot about being black, brown, blue, and white. They asked about black and blue and being bruised, things I didn’t even think of because I was dissecting them and using them in such a different way. Blue is this history that I’ve adopted and I feel like it needs to be told. That’s already part of my identity, it’s already in the diaspora. That’s already within my black identity, blue is already in there, but like stating it. And it’s interesting, naming black and white, and making a checkered flag and being like, “This is me!”
DW: This is my self portrait! [laughter]
LBV: Yeah, but not at all! This is not at all me, historically this is what colonization has put on us. I’m still using black and white as these stand-in colors, but really, they have all of these other meanings and roots and I would never just solidify them to one color. And yet, it’s so powerful to solidify them to one color, to be able to tell complicated histories. There are so many different shades.
Dedicated to Queer Brown & Black Love, Ur Hot, Digital Collage. 2017
DW: Yeah, it’s interesting to talk about this deep dive into history because, being who I am, I immediately read, “Oh, The Blues!” or being called “high yellow,” that’s what I’m bringing to it. It’s always interesting to explore questions like, “What do you see when you see this?” It’s so fascinating that it can be so different.
I like the way you look at my black, brown, blue body, I don’t like how my black, brown, blue body has been historically looked at, Risograph ink, acrylic on paper, 28”x22”. 2016. Photo by Lago Projects
LBV: Yeah, and I love that, it’s so good. I made a piece where I was really taking the colors and dissecting them for their different meanings. If I’m going to use and talk about these different colors, why not talk about the different parts that maybe people wouldn’t see.
DW: I’m thinking of the piece “I like the way you look at my black, brown, blue body, I don’t like how my black, brown, blue body has been historically looked at” I’m really curious about who the “you” is? Because I almost never feel like that. I’m almost always like, “Stop! You’re being disgusting.” Or a number of the things. And also respecting that you might not want to say, and I totally support that, too.
LBV: I was thinking a lot about the people who sustain me, and the folks who really know, understand, and support me and my community. Part of this piece, there were three paintings that were black and white, and they had altars behind them: one was dedicated to myself, one was dedicated to black and brown women that were killed by police in that year, and one was wad dedicated to my roots. As much as I’m questioning this world and feeling frustrated by it, at the same time I’m also reminded of being located in this place and within this community that I’ve worked really hard to create, around people that understand and know me. The first part of that, the “I like the way that you look at me,” was like I love the way that my community looks at each other and supports each other. Of course, I don’t like the way this country, this history, our history, has looked at this community that I love. I don’t think it was necessarily directed at one person, and it’s not all a critique of the “bad guys.” I’m also shining light at this part that has really supported me and highlighting how I’ve supported other people.
DW: I want to know about Nook gallery!
LBV: Nook Gallery is two years old, which is exciting. Our first show was in Spring 2016. It was founded in 2015, but it wasn’t actualized until 2016. I started it because I got out of art school and, yes, there are a lot of DIY spaces in the Bay Area, but a lot of the bigger art spaces are totally inaccessible. None of my people are there. How can I take direct action to be a support for my community? So I thought, I can clear out/donate the built-in seating nook in my kitchen and like, why not? These little spaces have kept our communities going for so long. It’s in the kitchen, which is so loaded. Kitchens have always been a place to bring people together to tell stories, to eat meals, to be warm together. It felt like, Duh! This art needs to be here! We mainly do month-long shows with a mix of me seeking out artists and artists sending in proposals. It’s really centered-around and strictly showing female-identifying folks, gender non-conforming folks, queer folks, people of color. We’ve had to say no to a lot of people, or a lot of white men, because those are our spaces and there are other spaces out there where white man can more easily be shown. This is the work that I’m dedicated to doing.
I KIND OF GO BACK TO THE WORD “SHINING” BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE ARE SUPPORTED THEY SHINE. I WANT THAT FOR MY COMMUNITY.
DW: That’s literally what I was going to say, that that’s the work right there.
LBV: Yeah, it’s great. It’s something that I love doing. I love taking on the curator role. I love supporting my community. And it feels like this direct way that I can support people that I love and people whose work I find really interesting, who I want to push, or give an opportunity to show, or to talk to about in-progress work.
DW: That’s really exciting. I’m curious about your vision for the space. Considering everything that you just said about the intimacy of it, do you envision it ever bring a brick and mortar somewhere else someday, knowing that it would necessarily change that? What are your hopes for it moving forward?
On the Border of Being, In collaboration with C.A. Greenlee, 11” x 11”, Acrylic, Gouache, Pigment Ink Print, Risograph Ink. 2016
LBV: Yeah, I developed an artist talk series two years ago, and the first one happened in the kitchen. And people were crammed in there, there was overflow into the backyard, it was a lot. People were in the living room. It was highlighting the practices of women and women of color and talks that people were developing so all sorts of folks were in there. That felt like something that I was really excited about and my immediate thought was to have an exhibition, but that’s not the only way to share and talk about work. So, then we had a second version of that here at CTRL+SHFT and it definitely was weird to have it not in the kitchen, but it held on to what it was set up to be. Lots of thoughts about what it’s going to become. First of all, I need funding. I’m going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign in the summer so we can sustain ourselves, and I’ll be applying for grants. I don’t know, it’s so tied to the location right now. But also, I’d love to have it be in its own space down the line. I think a lot of being in this intimate space, with, like, a stranger across the table from you is a part of it, but I think that’s also at the core of my work. I could make a space like that happen in another place. Who knows how long I can afford to be in the Bay Area? And probably Nook Gallery would come with me wherever I go, but maybe not. It feels like this located project but who knows what the future will be.
DW: Tell me more about the solo show and what work you’re developing for that.
LBV: So, I think of it as the yellow show and I’m really using it as a challenge. I feel like I’ve made installation based-work in different ways, but I want to take over the space as a full installation. I’ve been in a few group shows on the East Coast, but to present this super loaded, personal work in the city that I was born in but don’t necessarily have my own roots in (and haven’t shown a big body of work in), that’s interesting to me. I’m working with a photographer to document some of the performances and then the documentation will go into the show. I’m kind of letting myself have fun and try all of these different things.
DW: That sounds perfectly aligned with the color.
LBV: Yeah, I’ve done two rounds of photographing other folks and they’re like, “So what exactly will this be ...?” And I’m like, “Just trust me! It’s going to be something!”
Dedicated to caring for Eachother, Digital Collage. 2017
Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo received her BFA from California College of the Arts. She has had solo exhibitions at Lago Projects in Oakland, CA, E.M. Wolfman in Oakland, CA, Bolivar Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, and forthcoming at Deli Gallery in Queens, NY in May of 2018. Her work has been included in exhibitions and performances at Betti Ono Gallery, Root Division, Deli Gallery, Southern Exposure, SFMoMA, Kala Art Institute, Osaka Art University, and the Berkeley Art Museum. Lukaza was a Yozo Hamaguchi fellow at Kala Art institute in 2015 and has been a visiting artist at the College of Design, Architecture, Art Practice at the University of Cincinnati, at New York University, and at California College of the Arts. She is the co-founder and lead curator at Nook Gallery, a gallery she started in her home kitchen.
Danielle Wright is a visual artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned a B.A. in Visual Arts with an emphasis in Fine Arts at the University of San Francisco in 2007. Her work investigates the language of materials and the delineation between artist and viewer/participant. In addition to her studio practice, she teaches at Creativity Explored, a not-for-profit art gallery and studio in the Mission District of San Francisco.