Working to get there
KODA House #404b on Colonels Row on Governors Island
August 12—September 18, 2022
Are the words we use with each other, being kind to each other, any less of a political practice than going to a protest? How do we radically reimagine and enact justice in our relationships, and hearts? How do we bring the revolution home? Through her agitprop work and poetic gestures, Mildred Beltré generates desire and invites imagination to dream with our eyes open wide. ‘Working to get there’ takes its title from pre-figurative and abolitionist writing and presents prints, drawings, crochets, and human hair installations created between the years of 2002-2022 that represent a powerful struggle for racial and gender equity that is crucial to hope and joy.
Mildred Beltré is a multidisciplinary artist invested in community-based work, activism, and social movements. On view are the Chance Woodcuts, the What Is To Be Built, the Skin in the Game, and The Revolution That Never Was series. The prints, drawings, and installations vary in size, very small and intimate, sometimes quite close to body size, other times large and enveloping. The viewer’s physical position and disposition, in relation to the work, affects how they understand it, how they can resolve it. The Skin in the Game series is an open-ended series of figurative works such as Extraordinary Embarrassment (2021) and Presence #2 (2017). This series began as a way to think about risk and investment in complexity, visibility, and personal accountability. Through this work the artist considers the connections between commitment and uncertainty, conviction and doubt. By using Beltré’s own image, the artist makes herself vulnerable, and implicates herself in the project of representation and social justice.
The Slogans for the Revolution that Never Was series is an ongoing text-based series. This series examines desire, as well as the power and limits of language. Throughout the series, text is rendered in two different ways, either obscured or legible. Playing with legibility produces a sense of intimacy between the work and viewers. Obscuring the text, or when the artist makes reading difficult, is a way to undercut clarity and challenge the idea of a “slogan,” which is meant to be clear, declarative and easily taken. Replacing legible text with something that requires effort to decipher demands a closer, more attentive reading from viewers. In works where the text is legible, it is executed in a way that is very labor-intensive. This transforms the meaning of the text from an externalized slogan to an internal quiet meditation and brings political messages back into a reflective space that may lead to thoughtful action.
What Is To Be Built is a series of small abstract drawings, prints and crocheted hair pieces that consider infinite variations within a small set of parameters. How can we create something different using a small set of variables? These works are ways for the artist to imagine different sets of interdependent relationships and create “maps” for an equitable society. Chance Woodcuts, The oldest works in the exhibition, similarly take existing elements and recombine them in a playful way. Creating an energetic visual and enveloping experience.
Taken as a whole in the drawings, prints, textiles, and installations included, ‘Working to get there' takes the viewer through different modes of political thinking. Moving from evocative text-based work, to self-portraits that call attention to the body of the artist, as well as that of the viewer, to colorful abstraction. The effect of this is an invitation to consider what is and what could be, all mediated through ones’ one body and intentions. The piece Ancestry.comb (2021) is a curtain of hair roughly the width of the artist's body and incorporates her hair and that of members of her family. One can see the differences in the hair. Viewers can stand on either side of floor pieces that lay at the bottom of the piece, which read “We Already Are”, and gaze at the curtain or each other. The phrase asks us to consider ourselves not from a position of lack but rather that of abundance and resourcefulness. What are the forces that make us—Black and Brown people—feel that we are not enough? As we work toward liberation and freedom we can also consider that possibility ‘we already are’ but forces consistently work to take that away from us.
Mildred Beltré is a Brooklyn based artist, mother and activist working in print, drawing and participatory politically engaged practice, to explore facets of social change. She is invested in grassroots, social justice political movements, their associated participants, structures, and how those ideas affect social relations—particularly in the ways identity and social justice politics are performed, enacted, and embodied in private and public spaces. Her work grows from, and is influenced by, her long-term involvement with community organizing and Popular Education—the cultivation of critical consciousness, rooted in collective reflection, for social transformation. Using text and the body, her most recent work involves looking at revolutionary praxis through the experience of the everyday. Beltré is the co-founder of the Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, an ongoing socially engaged collaborative art project in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that addresses gentrification and community building through art-making. She has worked as a teaching artist for El Museo Del Barrio, Henry Street Settlement, and the New York City Housing Authority, where she coordinated an art program that placed artists in community centers. She has been a member of Sister Fire, La Escuela Popular Norteña, and Another Politics is Possible. Currently she is an Associate Professor in Studio Art at the University of Vermont. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships from KODA, Apex Art, BRIC, Lower East Side Printshop, Vermont Studio Center, and the Santa Fe Art Institute. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Brooklyn Arts Council, the Brooklyn Foundation, and the Rema Hort Foundation, among others.