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The Art of Living Black: An Interview with Lorraine Bonner

Lorraine Bonner was born and raised on the East Coast. She moved to California in 1970, and began working in clay in the early 90’s. Her work began in response to trauma, but soon evolved to embrace the larger political and spiritual themes of dominationism and the mutually reflective processes of the political and personal. She lives in Oakland and is a mother and a grandmother.

What do you find most inspiring about making art? Tell us about your current projects.

The most inspiring thing I find about art is how much I learn from the clay. It’s as if whatever experience or question has started the imaging and creating process, the clay has a way of illuminating (at least for me) a continuous unfolding of understanding, from the cellular to the cosmic, but most importantly, from the personal to the political.

I have been working for some time on a series entitled, “Multi-hued Humanity and the Redemption of Black,” in which I use clay of many colors to represent humanity and our many colors. I want anyone who looks at these works to be able to find their own skin color somewhere in the sculpture, and to enable us all to recognize the way that limiting our definition of ourselves to the two boxes “black” and “white” makes our thinking small.

Hunger

At the same time, it is important to remember that the archetypes “Black” and “White” are equally powerful and essential to a full spiritual existence. Heartless, anti-human  political and economic power, defining itself as “White” has subordinated “Black,” and my current work is an attempt to bring this imbalance into view and create an opening in which black and white have larger meanings.

How did you become involved with The Art of Living Black? How does your work represent and uphold the tradition of this exhibition?

I became involved in The Art of Living Black many years ago, when I still had trouble thinking of myself as an artist. The support and encouragement, the feeling of family, the inspiration of other artists, all enabled me to develop greater confidence in myself and my art. I hope I am able to pass some of that inspiration and encouragement on to other artists.

What was your path to becoming an artist? Please share some of your favorite work.

I was dealing with personal trauma, therapy wasn’t working, and a friend gave me a bag of clay. My favorite work is a series called “Exploring the Perpetrator” in which I look at the impact of betrayal of trust, which is how I define “perpetration.”

Studying the Perpetrator

Who are your inspirations?

My main inspirations are the people who were the Civil Rights Movement. When I feel afraid, I think of them.

What do you like to do when you’re not making art?

When I’m not doing art I like to garden, read, or hang out with my kids and grandkids.

What’s on your bucket list?

I don’t really think I have a bucket list, at least at the moment, other than doing more art and writing.

If you could meet one artist, living or not, who would it be and why?

James Baldwin. His mind and courage and skill with language blow me away.

Thank you, Lorraine.

You can see more of Lorraine’s work on her website: http://lorrainebonner.com/

Lorraine’s Open Studio takes place this coming weekend, March 4-5, from 11am – 5pm @ 6725 Mokelumne Avenue in Oakland. Her work is currently showing at E14 Gallery, located at 472 9th Street in Oakland.

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