I met Brandon Harris by Messenger, and finally, Wakanda-hugged him at the exquisite Tennessee Valley Museum of Art exhibit for which he worked as a curator. I was in awe at the splendor of Michi Meko’s When It’s Black Outside: Notes from the Before Times, an exhibit that highlighted Meko’s incomparable work, along with Kerrigan Casey, Lynthia Edwards, Claude Lucas. and Cory Patton. Jason McCall’s poetry graced the walls of the entrance, beckoning us to come into the diverse perspectives of the South. We are blessed to have Harris here in the Shoals, and now Garden Spices opens our gate to his perspectives on art and curation. – Victorine
Originally from the beach town, Fairfield County, Connecticut, Brandon Harris (24) is the middle child of four and admits, “I’m a New England kid.” Migrating from Jamaica in the ’70s, his parents grew up and were educated in Connecticut. “Art was always a big part of my life,” Harris admits. Harris had parents that nurtured his love of art, buying him paint supplies, and Harris recounts, “I attended a very good school system that had very supportive art teachers; I did all kinds of ceramics.” Within a short distance from New York, Harris went on field trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that inspired him. Harris attended college at the University of Connecticut and has a degree in Art History and Conservation. “I have a background in graphics and scenic design and will be attending grad school for production and scenic design.”
Studying graphic design in college, Harris “fell into” Art History, and “I loved it.” Harris indicated. “Art history is viewing the culture of art through the lens of people.” Harris explained that Art History is less about history and more about culture and the way the culture views life; “It’s really about communication.” Harris indicated that museums provide education and a way of safely preserving historical art.
As a curator, Harris creates a way of displaying the communication of art. Harris indicated that the process of curating depends on the space for the project. “I have more experience with smaller museums, where you have more control,” Harris explains his process. “With me, I have an idea, which I take to the head curator and director for approval.” Harris then researches the project and finds artists that can illustrate his idea. “It’s like doing a thesis and presenting it in a way that the public can digest it.” The location of the exhibit and the subject are determiners for a project. Harris points out that if the project is on Ancient History, he consults museums; he reaches out to artists for contemporary subjects. For the current exhibition in the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, Tuscumbia, AL, Michi Meko’s When It’s Black Outside: Notes from the Before Times, Harris worked as a curator helping to bring to life the idea of Jonathan Cain, head curator.
Harris is learning the art of installation from Jonathan Cain, “who is amazing,” according to Harris. There are many variables to installation: wearing gloves, protecting the art through temperature control, sometimes encasing the art with glass, and lighting. Design is another element of curating. “Cain designed Lynthia Edward’s exhibition hanging her art from the ceiling, versus on the wall,” explained Harris. “He used his creativity, designing how to display her art best.” Christi Britten, Executive Director of the museum, contributed the innovative idea of displaying Jason McCalls’s poetry on the walls of the entryway to the exhibit. They collectively installed lighting. Psychology also plays a part in curating, determining how the audience feels while viewing the art, the experience. This summer, Harris is curating an exhibition on African Spirituality: Traditional Spiritual Art. “We are borrowing artifacts from the Birmingham museum that all have to be under glass and adhere to climate control,” Harris indicated. “I wanted to borrow an Ogun costume but couldn’t because of climate control.” To research for the African project Harris will be canvassing the Black community speaking with elders. “I’m a scholar,” explains Harris. “I go wherever I can get the correct information, whatever gets it done.”
Personally, Harris likes realism but he has no boundaries. He is objective when exploring his projects. “I’m really big on skill level rather than personality.” In the Shoals community, Harris finds himself looking to the Black community and will focus on LBGTQIA artists this summer. Because of the history and community of the Shoals, Harris is seeking out Black artists. For example, because of the pandemic limiting Meko’s volume of work, the exhibition expanded from a single artist to Black identity itself – with several artists spanning different ages and perspectives. Boundaries are crumbling for Black artists. “We have a lot more artists going into universities,” Harris indicates. “Black people appreciate art more and more, realizing the importance of art.” Hoping to impact art appreciation, Harris weighs his options for graduate school, and he hopes to become a professor.
When asked to define abundance, Harris answered that abundance is “Having more than enough to share with others– knowledge, talent, time, not just finances. As it relates to art, abundance is giving back to the community, being present, seen and inspiring the community.”
Vicki Goldston (Victorine), CEO, Camp Goldston Publishing, LLC., Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Garden Spices Magazine, Blogger, Spicy…a blog by Victorine, Author Be S.A.F.E., a Kindle book