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Basil Kincaid stands amid his installation for R3clamation: Routes & Roots at the Hawn Gallery

Hawn Gallery exhibiting artist, Basil Kincaid was on campus for a week prior to the opening of his exhibition, R3clamation: Routes & Roots. While this was a busy week of installation and exhibition preparation, Basil took time to explore SMU and engage with Meadows School of the Arts students. On Wednesday, October 26th, Basil visited Lauren Woods’ Art Observation Foundations class and discussed the exhibition, his work, and his art practice with the students.

Basil presented a chronological narrative of his career, beginning with his formative years as a studio art major at Colorado College. He showcased many of his early drawings and paintings, but the work that garnered the most attention from the class were digital collages that appropriated racist imagery from banned mid-twentieth century films. He overlaid these overtly racist animated characters with the “rebooted,” yet eerily similar, contemporary ones, thereby evidencing the racist characterizations and imagery that still prevail.

“Basil is extremely talented, and showed us remarkable growth from his early college years to where he is today. He seems extremely invested not only in self-discovery, but in discovering the world around him and how he socially and emotionally interacts with that world. Hearing about his time abroad and how it impacted him made me curious about possible art programs overseas and how they might affect me.”

— Gabi Graceffo, Observation Foundations student

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Basil Kincaid speaks to Prof. Lauren Woods’ Art Observation Foundations Class

Basil then discussed the trajectory of his post-graduation career, beginning with his experience as an art teacher in St. Louis, the formation of The Reclamation Project, an artist residency in Ghana, and the development of his current work. He presented examples of his art throughout these various stages of his career, allowing the students insight into his artistic and personal growth. Explaining that The Reclamation Project began as a response to segregation in St. Louis, as reflected in the city’s housing situation, he collected discarded materials (most often debris) from vacant lots throughout the city to create large-scale assemblage works. In 2014, he completed an artist residency in Ghana with Arts Connect International, which allowed him to expand the project globally. In Accra, he continued his exploration of reclamation and community engagement, collaborating with local Ghanaian artists to examine our distanced relationship to the waste we generate.

Upon returning to St. Louis, Basil continued to reflect on the West African and Black American ancestral traditions that had informed his art practice thus far. R3clamation, the third iteration of The Reclamation Project was realized, and privileged quilting as the primary object art form. Basil described the personal and cultural significance that quilting holds for him; he spoke extensively of the influence of his grandmother and wider traditional West African quilting practices. In this way, R3clamation became an intimate exploration of self-healing and self-liberation. Basil spoke of both his personal experiences and the larger narrative of trauma and displacement that the black body has historically and presently endured.

“I appreciated how honest Basil was about the sacrifices he has had to make and how personal his work is to him. One usually hopes an artist is that personally invested in their work, and it makes hearing from them all the more personable and compelling. It was clear that his work in Ghana had strongly influenced the direction of his current work, and the history behind it was fascinating.”

— Maddie Wilson, Observation Foundations student

Reclamation 3 Prelude: The Vessel from Michael Dorsey on Vimeo.

Basil also showed the class a video piece, The Vessel, which was created with footage from a 2016 performance art piece in St. Louis. This incredibly moving and visually stunning video, which can be viewed above, allowed the students a glimpse of what they would experience at Basil’s upcoming performance at the Hawn Gallery. R3clamation: Routes & Roots, now on view in the Hawn Gallery, presents a comprehensive look at the R3clamation series, and the many art forms and mediums it has adopted: textile art, sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance.(Images of the October 28th Hawn Gallery performance can be viewed here.)

“I found Basil’s visit to be really powerful. His discussion of race, ethnicity, culture, and double consciousness really hit home for me, as I’ve grown up always acutely aware of my race and what that means to both myself and other people. I also really liked how his focus is on community building. Finding the balance between doing something sustainable and doing something you think is relevant and important is difficult, so it was cool to see someone who has spent his career working that balance out.”

— Gabi Smith, Observations Foundation student

Following Basil’s talk, the students asked thoughtful questions about Basil’s art and practice. Professor Lauren Woods challenged the students to consider the distinction between “black bodies” and “black lives,” which sparked an intelligent discussion. This Observation Foundations class, which broadly explores “what people see, how they see, and how and why they choose to represent their experience of the world in a particular form or medium” provided an ideal framework in which to explore Basil’s work and welcome him as the Hawn Gallery’s first visiting artist for the Hamon Arts Library’s contemporary arts exhibition program.


Images courtesy of Georgia Erger, Curatorial Fellow for the Hawn Gallery
Video courtesy of Basil Kincaid