This week, Allison Janae Hamilton (AJH) shows at Prizm Art Fair. Her images of the American South are equally fantastical and haunting. Her focus on the land , animals and nature are lush and tell rich, varied stories. I (MHD) spoke to her as she prepared to show her film The Milk or Honey at Prizm Art Fair.
MHD: I’ve noticed you have this amazing theme that hearkens to your southern roots. In looking at your bio I know that you were born in Kentucky and raised in Florida. What part of Florida were you raised in and how does that inform the work that you do?
AJH: I was born in Kentucky. I didn’t live there very long. We moved when I was about two years old. I spent most of my life growing up in Florida. I was raised mostly in the Miami area. Then I went to undergrad in Tallahassee. Around that same time my parents also moved to Tallahassee. I grew up as a child pretty much in South Florida and I also have a really deep relationship to north Florida for almost 15 years now.
Florida is a really interesting state in that it’s so different in different parts of the state and yet there’s a lot of connecting threads. I think it tells a lot about the history of the country, in general, in terms of the geography and the way that different groups of people have settled and migrated for many different reasons throughout the state. Florida is something that’s been on my radar in general in my work but right now, this year especially, I’m working on a project for the spring that’s really thinking about sustainability and the rural black south. Really looking at the way that climate change and ecology and all of these changes in our atmosphere and in climate are impacting rural black communities in Florida. I’m using a lot of mythology and totemic signifiers of animism and things like that to really think through Florida and the conditions going on as kind of a stop on this longer epic journey that my work is … the story that my work is trying to tell.
For me right now, Florida is definitely on my mind in a big way. I’ll be in north Florida for a good portion of this winter. I’ll be shooting in some of the swamps and some of the Flatwoods lakes, really getting to know the way that the actual land has played a part in the black history of Florida; and also more so the contemporary landscape right now.
MHD: I really like not only the work that you do but the different ways that you express yourself creatively. I would love to know how you got your start. What piqued your interest when it came to visual arts?
AJH: When I was really young, yeah. Going all the way back to middle school I was in a magnet program in which you had your major or your concentration, and mine was photography. That was my first exposure to dark room processes and shooting with 35 mm cameras and developing film and making prints. I still show some of the work that I made while 12 or 13 years old of our family farm in Tennessee. My mom’s side of the family is from rural western Tennessee.
When I was growing up, I would make landscape photographs there. I was really into landscape photography at the time. Still, today, landscape is a really important part of the work even though some of it’s fictional and some of it’s fantastic. I think the land for me is a really key starting point. It probably came from those early experiences of working with black and white film and using that language of landscape photography. That’s probably where it started; or that was the earliest kernel to what I’m doing now.
Later, when I was an undergrad, I was actually going more towards fashion. I majored in fashion merchandising and then from there I went on to costume for Off-Broadway plays and things like that. I began to research a little bit more on dress and visual culture and that kind of (in a roundabout way) brought me back to art and thinking about land. Then picking up all the different things I learned along the way from theater and working with costume. That became my first kind of intro into working with sculpture and so then from there the sculpture and the photography kind of came together and I began working in installation.
Now all together my practice includes photography but also video. Photographs that are also very theatrical and cinematic. On the flip side of that, video that maybe feels like a long take that feels like a landscape photograph. I work a lot in metal right now and of course taxidermy. From all of those beginnings, it’s grown and each part works in with the other but everything comes back toward the land in some way or another.
MHD: With Art Basel/Miami Art Week coming up are there any exhibits or shows or gallery that you look forward to going to and if so which one?
AJH: That’s a good question. I’m always interested in being able to support and check out what other artists are doing. I’m excited for some of the talks. Howardena Pindell is a favorite artist of mine. I know she’s giving a talk and I’m excited to hopefully catch. I’m looking forward to Mickalene Thomas’ opening of the show that she’s curated. There’s a lot of artists in that show that I really enjoy following.
Two professors of mine are doing an interactive project at Untitled with Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu Daniel. There’s a lot going on. Mark Dion, another faculty member of mine, is doing something so it’s always great to catch up and see what people are working on and what other artists are excited about; and to be able to support and show up and check in. I think Derrick Adams has a film that’s going to be screened. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that for sure.
MHD: Lastly, name three things that inspire you on a daily basis to create.
AJH:Three things that inspire me on a daily basis? I would say the south. The south and my family and community, whether that’s in Tennessee (on my mother’s maternal side), or the Carolinas (where my dad’s from), or Florida where I grew up; or even Kentucky. I think those four places are really key and I think about those places all the time. That’s one thing for sure.
My peers, I’m really inspired by the work that friends and peers are doing. I’m excited and energized to see their work all the time. It’s exciting to just be a part of a community of artists even though with the political landscape it’s been really challenging times. I’m encouraged by how different arts communities are coming together and having really difficult conversations and trying to push forward in the ways that they know how.
The third thing would be my family. I’m always inspired by my close friends and family and all the great things and the way that they’re contributing to the world as well.