Interview with Ayanah Moor

Hip-Hop, Revision, Chocolate Cakes and Print Intervention
Collaborative Interview by Shani Peters and Chanel Matsunami Govreau

Question #1 (Shani)
I love seeing the word “revise” (revised, revision) throughout your website and writing about your work. Can you talk about your concept of this verb? Further, can you talk about what motivates towards this action? In answering these questions can you address your decision to appropriate in your work?

This is a great question. I think I have always been sensitive to the need to self-define, because black people in America have historically been affected by the ways in which others have defined them. For me, to revise: is to act upon a history. It is both an acknowledgement of history, a critique of it, and an alternative view. I am intrigued by the social constructs of race, just as I am intrigued by gender and sexuality. In my work I often play upon notions that we think of as fixed, to invite new definitions.

Question #2 (Shani)
I see your work as a professor and curriculum writer at a prestigious western university as seriously meaningful extension of the cultural revision you begin in your artwork. How do you go about this transition? Do you feel internal or external pressures on you as you go about the work of formal education and course design. When first offered the position was it a task you felt fully ready for, or did you feel some trepidation?

I am an artist first, but when I began teaching I was an artist in need of a job. My initial post was a Visiting Artist position. It allowed the perfect balance between staying in my studio, and exchanging information/generating knowledge with students. Carnegie Mellon is a research institution, so there is an expectation of professional development that is different from a teaching university. It is also known for its innovative leadership in education. My post is now Associate Professor and over the years I’ve had the fortune of creating courses that emerge from my creative practice. Hip Hop and Contemporary Art is a lecture course that examines the ways in which popular culture has impacted art making and art world discourse. It’s built on the premise that if Pop Art developed out of 50s & 60s era artists paying attention to the popular aesthetics of the period, then the same could be said of the influence of the hip hop generation and its creative use of materials, language, high/low culture, etc. My use of appropriation is an extension of this type of logic. It’s very hip hop.

Question #3 (Shani)
Strictly out of curiosity… are there any other professions or artistic mediums you hope to explore in the course of your life?

I’m more of a generalist than a specialist. I have love for print media, but don’t consider myself the printmaker’s, printmaker. I like using varied tools. For a while I was an active dj in Pittsburgh, and it was really important to represent as a woman; be a part of the hip hop scene from an underground perspective, not solely an academic one. Last year I played women’s professional football as an extension of my interest in popular culture… I think the future may see me return to my roots and explore painting again. Lately I’ve been really excited about painting chocolate cakes!

Question #4 (Chanel)
You describe your 2008 piece Get Money Teach Kids as “print media intervention.” When do you find it necessary to pursue guerilla art distribution?

Well, I hesitate to refer to it as guerilla because I obtained permission. But in the case of that work, I liked the idea of an announcement of sorts without a clear meaning intervening into a space in which other print media does have clear objectives. It wasn’t an ad to see an exhibition, nor did it attempt to sell a printmaking textbook, or share some new print technique. I obtained permission to place cards in all the conference bags of the attendees of the 2008 Southern Graphics Council Conference. The SGCC event was at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. (My BFA is from VCU, 1995) I liked that my card had a hand gesture on one side with the words GET MONEY and the reverse, an image of a little boy with text that read, TEACH KIDS. Just as I mentioned earlier, I started teaching initially because I was an artist who needed a job and teaching seemed a good fit. Well a lot of artists teach, and so the question becomes, are we teaching art to get money, or teaching art for kids (young people)? Moreover are we teaching young people how to use art to get money? I also wondered whom we’re teaching? Do our students look like the boy on that card, and how might we use art to help him or kids like him obtain success? Which side of the card is read first? How does that impact the meaning? How is this logic different from the stereotypical rhetoric around getting money in hip hop? I think it’s hypocritical not to recognize that some people are in the teaching business, not because they fell in love with the idea of academia, but because they were struggling artists looking for a job. I liked the idea of inserting that language/question in an academic conference bag.

Question #5 (Chanel)
Do you consider viewer accessibility to your work, when you are creating a new piece or putting together a show? How do you reach your desired audience?

My audience is mostly the audience that attends art shows. Depending on the city my exhibit takes place in, effects how diverse that audience is. So an exhibit in Harlem, NY, is going to be different from a show in Pittsburgh, PA. Class/education also plays a large role. But these matters don’t figure into my thinking in my studio. I’m going to make the work I want to make. My work reflects who I am. Progress is relative. It’s important for my work to be in a gallery but also engage spaces outside of the gallery. Doing so will ensure that a wide audience sees my work.

Question #6 (Chanel)
How should Grapevine Ink work to establish itself as vital and necessary to the printmaking world and distinguish itself from other printmakers’ collectives?

I think it’s great that Grapevine Ink is creating a space of interaction and exchange for women of color. It provides a platform to showcase voices that are often under-represented, particularly in printmaking. But just as the collective is centered around cultural /racial /ethnic similarities, I think it should also strive to interrogate those sites of display as well. I think the goal is to initiate a dialogue that is both specific and inclusive. Good luck Grapevine Ink, and thanks for inviting me to be a part of your conversation.