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lime Exhibitions Interview: Renee Cox

Lime interview - Exhibitions

Renee Cox

words by

Adelaide Damoah

Reporter: Adelaide Damoah
Adelaid Damoah’s work can be found here

Renee Cox, a Jamaican American mixed media artist is described in her biography as one of the most “Controversial African-American artists working today.” 

Born in 1960 in Jamaica, Cox often uses her own body to critique what she sees as an inherently sexist and racist society, while simultaneously celebrating what it means to be black and to be female. 


Completely fearless in her approach to her art, her work could be seen as confrontational social commentary, but she is more than that. Cox sees the work as a response to things which affect her and not merely to confront or specifically to intentionally cause controversy. 


Reneee Cox, this fearless, inspirational, unintentionally confrontational artist, took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her life, art and success with me.


I read that your family moved to Scarsdale when you were 14. Apparently, there were only 7 black families in the area that you moved to. Would you say that directly impacted your work? 


In my community, it was like a bad TV series where you were always the token. That was my reality. I was used to that. Coming from Jamaican lineage, there was never any fear involved in anything. For example, when my father came to the United States for the first time in the 40's, he landed in Miami with a British passport. Jamaicans had British passports back then. His reservation had been made in advance. When he got there, the only cab driver who would pick him up was a black man.  My father said, “I am going to the Fontainebleau Hotel.” 


The cab driver said, “Oh no, you can't go there!” 


My father was totally ignorant of racism and Jim Crow. Anyway, after 15 minutes or so of arguing back and forth about whether or not he could go there, he walked into the hotel and up to the reception desk and said, “My name is Lancelot Cox and I have a reservation.” 


After an hour or so at the reservation desk, the man had to honour the reservation and he stayed there for three days!


Growing up in that type of environment, I never felt any trepidation. I never had any boundaries and felt like I can't do this because I am a black woman or whatever. 



Is that in part what influences the way that you work now?


Oh totally! It influences the way I work, it influences the way I live. It all goes hand in hand. 



The notion of the starving artist has been romanticised, therefore, the average person who perhaps does not know anything about what it means to be an artist, sees that. It does not sound like that has ever been your experience. Has it?


No. I have no interest in suffering! 


What was it about having a child in 1990 that then inspired you to go and do your MFA and focus on fine art photography.


I had been doing fashion for almost 10 years at that point. It was fun, I was in my twenties, I got to travel, I got to be superficial! One day, I just woke up. Actually, I was in London and I started hearing about Nelson Mandela and the ANC and all the atrocities that were going on in South Africa. Up until that time, I was sort of oblivious to it. I became more interested in things that were happening that were relevant in the world and at the same time, realised that the people I was hanging out with in fashion  were living in this stupid little world. I really did not want to be a part of it. 


Did you have any specific challenges?


The initial entrée was like bliss. I did a piece, they liked it, people were calling me wanting to buy it. Then as I progressed, the next big body of work I did was the Superhero's. That is when I found some resistance. That’s when people were saying, “She is narcissistic! She apparently likes herself too much,” which is not a good thing because if you are black, you shouldn’t really like yourself, you should be giving them some victim shit. My thing is world domination. I am not interested in being somebody’s victim, so they did not really take well to that body of work. From there, it became more challenging. 



Being a black woman in a world dominated by upper middle class white men,  did you  feel personally that you had to push past any kind of barriers and if so, how did you do that? Especially considering the nature of your work, de-constructing racial and sexual stereotypes in a very in your face way. Your work can not be ignored.


That is just the way I am. I don’t strategise how I am going to do things. It is about the way that I feel. I do the research behind my feeling and then I put it out there. I had never really thought about it like that in terms of white male middle class. That was what was harped on about in grad school with the whole patriarchal society. I just take the attitude of my father which was like, “Really? I need my room!” 




What do you think it takes for a black female to be validated in this establishment?


Even just believing in validation is something that will drive you mad. Who are you looking for validation from? Are you looking for validation from those same crazy ass white people that you just told me about? Are you looking for validation from your peers? Then I have to say, why are you looking for validation in the first place?  That is too much damn power to give to people! I think if any artist is out there, that is the first thing they need to realise. They should never give that power to anybody.


What is your personal definition of success in the art world?


Success for me at this juncture is to be happy and to be doing what I want to do. 


By your definition of success, would you say that you are successful?


It is about being happy with what you are doing, not about monetary success. I am not poor, so I get to do what I want to do, but it has never been the driving force.


What is your biggest success to date?


Probably raising two really cool kids



What would you say is your ultimate ambition for the work?


Just that the work is out there and people see it and it gets the respect that it deserves. 


What advice would you give to young artists wishing to follow in your footsteps?


Be the witness to your negative thinking. Don’t let that shit get to you. Know that the thoughts you may be having are coming out of your ego. And know that your ego is not your friend. Once you understand that, you can address it and you don’t have to let it build up in you and become a real drama. You get good at it at a certain time and you can laugh about it. You know, when you get those thoughts like- “that artist is better than me, or that artist has had more shows than me or that artist...”You know, and then you start crying about it saying 'poor little me.' Once you notice that, then you can say- aha, that was my little ego kicking in there, that's what it was. Then you can ignore it because it’s only going to destroy you if you let it.



Website: www.reneecox.org

For more on this interview, please visit Art Success at www.adelaidedamoah.com







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