Becoming Black

“I began directing my attention, both what I was studying and who I was working with and for, in a specifically Black direction. And it is that kind of moment where I began to really strongly interrogate my own Blackness.”

Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.

I have been having a series of conversations with Master Artist Michael on the topic of our practices and race for some time now. I decided to interview them for this issue of SoFA journal’s Conversations On Everything to ask more about their personal history of reclaiming their past, and making space in the future for kids to move towards and flourish into a better society. Being a part of the African diaspora myself, I do not know much about my real last name due to generational trauma, and half of my family history has sometimes been difficult to grab a hold of. Talking with Master Artist Michael about their longing to find and reclaim their identity in their history, and pave a way for kids, inspires me deeply. They are making very important work in discussing the power in embodied history and sharing that embodied history. In this interview, I think a lot about time—how we do not have control over time unless we are archiving, documenting, educating, storytelling and sharing, as well as considering our own agency, and giving ourselves permission to take power.

Michael’s work, Afro Contemporary Art Class (ACAC) at KSMoCA (King School Museum of Contemporary Art), as well as the Afro Contemporary Art Archive in Special Collections at the Portland State University (PSU) Library, are spaces for archiving, documenting, and collective storytelling. Michael states, “ACAC (referring to both projects) helps young people of African descent to learn more about the histories and contemporary contexts that shape their lives, culture, and social contexts. These ideas are explored by studying contemporary artists and creatives as a conduit to (and a lens for) thinking through a range of experiences related to the African diaspora.” I hope you enjoy this interview with Michael. I recommend checking out a recent book I am reading called One Drop by Yaba Blay, on the range of experiences and identities in the African diaspora.

Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. posing for artist Intisar Abioto, who was shooting for their project The Black Portlanders. The image was taken in September of 2020 during the Oregon wildfires. Abioto was documenting Black Portlanders confined in their homes while wearing a full face covering respirator. Image courtesy of Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.

Brianna Ortega: So a couple months ago this Instagram account reached out to me and they’re like, Oh, we wanted to reach out to you. They said they were talking about my project and said to themselves, How did Bri know that Black Lives Matter was going to happen? How did she know to have Black Lives Matter in her second issue (of her surf publication)? And she had Black people. How did she know?

And I just was like, What the heck? It was so bad. It was horrible. 

Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.: It’s an interesting time. People haven’t had to even think about this stuff.  And yeah, I mean, it’s also weird. I made a post on Instagram recently and people said, Wow, great words. But my words didn’t feel overly profound to me. But, people are just literally like getting started, you know? Um, I mean, do you know about Adrian? 

Brianna: I love Adrian Piper. 

Michael: Yeah. So, I mean, she, that card was that project. She did the business cards, so it was like, Oh, by the way, I’m Black fucking you. 

Brianna: I appreciate always talking to you, Michael. 

Michael: Well, I also enjoy the university space with you. 

Brianna: I feel like we’re both really, really different and that’s interesting. 

Michael: Indeed.

Brianna: I know our last conversation we had was like in November and then I was driving up on a surf trip to a remote location. We were kind of just breaking down your identity as a Black man and your journey with that. Through the process of contextualizing your work over time, how do you identify yourself, or how has your identity changed through the making of your work? Like over the last few years, and since you started your work Becoming Black? 

Michael: Sure. It was interesting that you specified just the past few years, because I do think a major change has occurred in this short time, though also has it been a longer process. Part of the container of the longer process is like my identity is now Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., which has changed recently. But I have been seen as Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. for a very long time and I was Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. before that. 

People might ask me, That’s your name? No one identifies as their full name. In fact, some people abbreviated or changed their names. The first stage of identity shifting was talking about objects, my origin as an object maker, and this culture around generating an object and then signing it with your name. “What is the culture of your signature?” is interesting as well because being in a—it was not just an object culture—but specifically was very near to like glass ceramics, and maybe even more influenced by glass culture.   

One of my professors said, Yeah, when I was coming up, everyone’s like, Oh, sign your name real big. It was a big kind of ego thing, you know, even as it dates back to Duchamp, and the fact that there’s this expectation that you are signing your work and it may even be in an image taken of it, you know, ruining the image to include your name. My professor said, You guys don’t even sign your work, I don’t get it. So I thought, What’s my artist’s name? And I didn’t really identify with Bernard. 

And it’s funny, I got a star chart reading right when I moved to Portland on the first social practice camping trip, and then Renee Sills who did my reading said, Oh, you have problems with identity. I thought, Well, this is working. 

I decided to identify as my father’s full name sake. Right? He bestowed that upon me and it goes even further. It is this interesting, subtle cultural piece that has really sharpened in the past couple of years. I remember vividly. I found it on the internet. There’s this audiobook called Gift of the Tortoise. And it was like an African cultural thing. I was a young kid, and my mom got it for me, for whatever reasons she might’ve had for getting it. There was a song. The drawing on the cover was like this anthropomorphized turtle woman. The narrator on this album described the surname family name situation, and how when people would travel and go to like a different village, they would introduce themselves and they would say their entire family. From a very young age I thought about my identity. But, just thinking back now, since choosing to identify as my full whole name, I realized how there is a kind of cultural history that’s lost in the ways you choose to identify or not identify yourself through your name. 

Now, I’m changing my name and my pronouns. And I’m shifting everything that was given because I want to reject it. I was always also attracted to indigenous cultures or other cultures where you earn a second name based on who you are.  And so me claiming my father’s name is kind of like this version of that version for me.

I’m also an artist and artists are marginalized in ways. And I also want to be able to show up and [have it] be like, Oh, this is the artist. And you know, doctors get like a prefix of notoriety in general, or Mr. President…these things that we’ve decided as a culture to give power to. And Artist is not one of them. You might happen to be able to work your name into a Picasso or Vincent van Gogh. But not Artists as a culture or a group or an identity. And so I was like, I want all this on my name. I want my cultural group. I’m like forcibly marginalizing myself, like whatever. And then it became in pursuit of Master. During the in-between arc of pursuing mastership and post-school, I realized that Michael is an Archangel name. So it’s like Christian. Bernard is a Germanic name—in the distant past, but even prior to World War II, Germanic culture was colonial. They were essentially a war-based nation that would take stuff from other people. Stevenson is a Eurocentric name structure. So it’s essentially linked to the Mayflower coming to the Americas, and then introducing this kind of name structure.

And so here I am, an American citizen born to a Black man and an Italian woman, and all of my names are colonial names.

There’s this kind of pretentiousness projected onto me. And so I’ve started to explain it in more detail because I’m like, this is why I’m doing this. This is my own project. Like, this has nothing to do with you and you could choose to be an Artist as well. And it’s also interesting because with the shift to Master Artist, I am now a part of an even more select group, like not infinitely select, but more select than just Artist. PSU won’t let me use my chosen name, which is also interesting because there’s so much contextualizing I’m doing in my work and have signed my checks with Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. I started to sign them Master Bernard, you know, and my roommate is also someone who has a fiscal relationship with me and has paid me as Master Bernard.

I have like a paper trail, you know, with this identity. And PSU asks, What about your birth certificate? And I’m like, Okay, so you’re now preventing me from doing this, this is the whole point of it, right? There are these colonial systems that will tell me who I am and what I can do. And this is just another example. I’m going to get a stamp made that says Master Artist and alter my diploma. And now this pertains to other people, like anyone—you will be able to use this Master Artist stamp to identify yourself. And it can be used by anyone, even a child.

All of my names are not any of my ancestral cultures. There are these cultural identities battling to claim certain historical contexts within our species. And Black always remains on the bottom and is actually the foundation for all things in many cases. And so I use conversation around my name and essentially at this point, it doesn’t actually matter where it’s from. I’ve claimed it. And I’m now making it my own. Regarding some of your initial questions, Becoming Black and these other things, choosing what my identity is myself is this form of power that I have that both denies and is within awareness of something’s original place. Claiming it and making it my own, which is, pinging the sentiment of Becoming Black, not forgetting I was born Black. Depending on who you are, or at least in people in our situation, whereby you’re white passing, it’s something you have to own, otherwise it is invisibilized for you or you learn to invisiblize it, which I don’t think is inherently problematic. Maybe there’s a million reasons why someone might want to invisibilize themselves, however the primary reason is ostracization. And because of ostracization, there’s a desire to distance. Born from something that they don’t feel good about, that part of themselves. 

But to bring my original identification into my current life—I don’t remember being aware of the process of Becoming Black again. I think it began a little while before I even started authentically investing in it as a project and making decisions based on it. But what is the precursor to all of that was starting the Afro Contemporary Art Class. 

Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. in their Afro Contemporary Art Class Uniform, 2019. Image courtesy of Kelly Lynn Lunde.

Brianna: How did you start the Afro Contemporary Art Class? 

Michael: I met someone at the Headlands Center for the Arts who said I should look into the Black School and some other kinds of extracurricular groups that were specifically taking Black culture and Black history and turning it into a lesson that could be inserted into schools. It was that conversation that had me transition my graduate project into Afro Contemporary Art Class from maybe just sculpture class at King School.

An original intention for that class was to teach young kids the entirety of Black history, and then use that lesson, where we look at the history of Black culture, to then look at Black art.

Nyame Brown is an Afrofuturist painter with a robust career that we studied in the class. With the ACAC, I’ve been able to choose the artists whose work I want to contextualize into the lives of young people, and for that reason I was interested in Nyame’s work because it features ideas young people are already thinking through. Like the comic book character, Black Panther, and Nyame’s self imagined Afrofuturist character who I believe he calls Panther 13.

They’re working with all different forms of symbolism. Like in one of his paintings, there’s two characters and the first is writing C.R.E.A.M. on the second one’s back. And that acronym is colloquially “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is the title to a Wu Tang Clan song. And, you know, meanwhile, he’s also inspired by Shakespearian contexts and kind of like a Pan-African Indigeneity. He’s marrying all these things together. 

The original intention for the Afro Contemporary Art Class was to have studied every aspect of Black culture and history chronologically. Once we began to look at Nyame Brown’s paintings the project kind of transformed into looking at an artist’s work and then drawing out the history visible in the work before talking through and learning about that.

And so my point for both [Black culture and art] is that in neither circumstance did I actually consider myself to be educated, in a way where I could teach it. So I began to educate myself on all of these different things. And that is what kind of opened the door, because like what you and I have discussed in the past and kind of are discussing now, there’s a specificity around Black culture.

Brianna: Can you share a little bit of your personal history? 

Michael: It’s interesting because, you know, I was raised in a Black family, in a Black household, like my grandmother’s house. There’s certain parts of my existence that are foundationally Black. And as I got older, I stopped going to my grandmother’s house. I had my own friends and whatever.

And even though I was living in a multicultural community, like very diverse, there was not any kind of specificity around being Black. You know what I mean? Like in my household or in the version of history I was taught in school. 

Meanwhile, in my work, with the intention of benefiting different social systems in certain populations, I was directing my own intentions towards people facing marginalized conditions, which, disproportionately, is Black, young people. I was already working with Elijah, a young person who I connected with at KSMoCA and made art with, even though my content wasn’t specifically looking for a Black audience. And then when I was getting ready for my graduate class, I was like, Oh, African Contemporary Art Class. I want the entire class to be Black students. 

I began directing my attention, both what I was studying and who I was working with and for, in a specifically Black direction. And it is that kind of moment where I began to really strongly interrogate my own Blackness. Such as instances where I was in situations that were anti-Black, even though—and you were talking about like being white-passing yourself—I don’t know that I consider myself white-passing. I think I’m white-passing-ish. Which is predicated on just me literally feeling like I have white privilege. At this point I have identified, I am Black and I think I express Black and I think I participate in things in a Black way. Especially now, but always, maybe. And I think also even, there’s ways that people have perceived me or how situations have gone, where even though I actually am feeling forms of white privilege or that I can be in a white space unchallenged, other people are projecting Blackness onto me in that situation. 

I’ve learnt about Black art through creating the Afro Contemporary Art Class as well as the varying things that I’ve studied—including a Black film class, working to build the Afro Contemporary Art Archive at the PSU Library as well as researching and consuming different kinds of work. It’s a spectrum of things including UPN [United Paramount Network] show Girlfriends featuring Traci Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, or, you know, different Black films from the Blaxploitation era, different artists work, or recently deceased MF Doom—which weirdly in a not-so-distant past, I was identifying with his work and his practice, and later learned he had died not long after. When I found out, I went to his web store and I saw all of their albums and other merch was sold out.

And so I think, you know, two years ago, I would have thought, Oh yeah, like another Black creative dies. Okay. Fucked up, like this happens, like when Prince died and Michael Jackson died, it catalyzed the consumption of their life in their work and therefore their lives. Like a commodity.

I just am thinking about all of these things and how they’re juxtaposed with my own identity, whether it’s something I’m choosing or is projected onto me. And I think what I was just saying about MF Doom and the consumption of life—these things are projected onto me—but there’s also things that I’ve now chosen to identify with, and/or seek out.

Becoming Black embodies all of the things that I’ve been slowly describing. It’s a way where the conversation we’re having now is different than the conversation we might’ve been having two years ago. You know, not long ago, I was even skeptical of how much I was being perceived, presenting as, or identified with Blackness or Black culture.

And that has exponentially increased. I really do feel like a part of it in a way, whereas before I felt totally outside of it. And now I don’t. But also as I sit here, I’m wearing Kente cloth pants, essentially an extension of Becoming Black, which is an identity-based project that really has no structure or form worth presenting, but can be discussed. And I have an independent receipts folder of different clothing items purchased from Black businesses that are in some way Black leaning, if not in origin, also aesthetically. I’d had a t-shirt that I purchased from a thing called Artists Untold and they might’ve been mostly POC, but it features an artist and the artist’s work, and the shirt is priced at a designer cost. The t-shirt was like a darker Black-skinned lady and a lighter Black-skinned lady just, they kind of have no nose, maybe just like mouths and lips and a little bit of neck. The lips have orange lipstick on them. I wore that shirt when I went to the Afro Contemporary Art Class.

I usually just wear stuff out of whatever, a recycling bin; a sense of fashion is forsaken even in contemplating my identity. I’m not thinking about my appearance or I’m subverting my appearance. In the very recent past, literally since the uprising, after George Flyd’s murder, I was like, I feel more Black, but I also have some sort of like white-passing power, even if it’s just like, through my lexicon and way of moving through space, people are like, Oh, this Black guy’s okay. But it’s like, I actually wanted to appear more Black. You know what I mean? And so am draping myself in explicitly Black things, not to be like, Hey everyone, look I’m Black. But to be like, I’m taking up space as a Black person. 

Brianna: Thank you for sharing the whole story and everything. 

Michael: Totally. I mean, this is interesting. I haven’t even really found a place. I’m like, in some ways, vaguely unresolved in my own life around it. But there’s an altercation in my family that too, for me remains, unresolved. Like I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. I think I was ready to leave the state. You know, she lives in North Carolina. I traveled there and it was just like breakfast table-style moments. She was randomly talking about standing next to a female police officer in the line to McDonald’s and that she had like all this gear on and she was really petite. The kind of gear was, you know, more impressive seeming or something. And my uncle was talking to her about it and telling the story and then my grandmother casually says like, Oh, it’s a shame that she really needs that stuff or something. And I was like, What do you mean? And she said, You know, well, she’s hanging out in the ghettos and she’s got to protect herself and whatever. And I was like, Well, what the fuck you talking about? Like, I don’t think this is true at all. And then somehow the conversation evolved. Meanwhile, again, I think this is a very interesting situation because it’s different from all the stories I’ve told so far. I wasn’t super strongly identifying with Blackness, you know what I mean? This was six years ago or something. I hadn’t, uh, militarized my identity or something. 

It’s just interesting and terrible in some ways that this is my own blood. And all of these things I have are kind of these precursors to my upbringing or my own awareness. But they are also the building blocks of, you know, why am I finding myself in a K through 5 school that’s expanded to a high school, and interestingly both are the two most Black schools in Portland, right? Are we saying that I wound up there by accident? Or are we saying that I wound up there because there’s these different elements in the world or my life that have shaped this story prior to my even participating? 

I vividly remember some events in high school where one of the students said, Don’t say African Americans, say Black, and that was prior to my own thoughts and feelings around it. I don’t use the term African American unless someone is self-identifying. Because otherwise it’s like, Nah, I’m not trying to just be American by accident. And I’m not trying to juxtapose my Blackness with being American either. I’m specifically claiming these certain things that continue to even grow and become enhanced contextualization.

Educate to Liberate, produced for the Arlene Schnitzer Visual Art Prize exhibition, 2020. Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. positions themselves in juxtaposition with Huey P. Newton co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Image courtesy of Kelly Lynn Lunde.

Brianna: Can you share about your new show with Arlene Schnitzer? 

Michael: I essentially reproduced the Huey P. Newton photograph, where he’s sitting in the wicker chair. His life included being shot, shooting someone, killing a cop, getting arrested, and getting released from jail.

I don’t remember which of these events was the precursor to the creation of this photograph, but one of them, it was really like a fuck you, you know what I mean? And so I’m channeling some of that similar energy thinking about structural oppression. I’m not interested in giving them Black faces, you know what I mean? And that’s sometimes what people want, like, Oh, it’s so great to see a hundred Black kids smiling and cheering and jumping rope. Like let’s put it on the cover of our magazine. I’m thinking, What the fuck are you doing? I’m doing that work. You don’t get to say I won. You say you’re supporting this. If you were supporting this, I wouldn’t be searching around for crumbs to try to do this work. And essentially the majority of my time and labor is unpaid. So I reproduced this photo with the intention of bringing these narratives closer together, both the narrative of my youth work and the narrative of my community organizing, but to give it a facing or a facade that is in ways militant. But it was interesting because when I showed the photo to my cohort, my classmate Zeph asked, Oh, what does it feel like to be embodied in history?

And said, It’s very empowering. I didn’t just play Huey P. Newton. I am in the schools. I did the Black Panther Breakfast Program. I’ve created pamphlets about anti-Black sentiments. I’m in the community. I’m contributing resources. Like it’s just a juxtaposition. It isn’t an imitation. And then this has cemented my own path for a pursuit of meaningful identity that like, This was before me, this was for me, this is who I am, and this is what I’m going to be. And this is who and how I’m going to teach.  

There are these nuanced figures in history, whether it’s musicians or artists or these different activists that you know are not a part of the common narratives of who’s being celebrated. And so it’s like all of this stuff that I’ve been doing and other people have been doing—a lot of my work is even raising up the work that has been done before me. And I haven’t studied it. I didn’t get taught it and I wasn’t identifying with it until the past year and a half, two years. It is even this vivid awareness that Becoming Black as a project exists. I’m finding my own way. This wasn’t taught to me in any school. In fact, I’m creating my own school system and educational materials to be reflecting on this. And so I think Becoming Black is centered on my experience. Like what are the ways that I am having this experience? But also it is the way that I’m cultivating that for others. 

Brianna: Yeah, thank you so much for sharing all that. It’s really powerful. And it’s just cool to hear your own journey through it all with your identity. I know I talked about family members being ostracized from our family due to the color of their skin. 

Michael: That’s interesting too because that is a part of the colorism discourse, you know what I mean? Like it’s okay to be light-skinned Black and, you know, you get kind of invisibilized if you’re a dark-skinned Black, and you have privilege if you’re light-skinned Black.  

My Italian family doesn’t know how to speak Italian specifically because my grandparents’ parents didn’t teach them how to speak Italian. And that was specifically because they were trying to assimilate. And so, kind of a white-centric colonization exists on all sides of my family. And the discourse around colorism exists strongly. You know, there’s a lot there around that. But it’s also interesting because often Black people get seduced by anti-Black sentiments and kind of reject their own identities for other stranger reasons.

I was talking to someone locally a long time ago. We were talking about some of these things and he said that like, you know, I forget exactly his wording, but essentially he was saying that the entire culture of Black people and beyond need to really reckon with the fact that all Black blood in America is mixed blood.

So you know, there’s that, and that remains invisibilized in all kinds of different ways. But yeah, like these things that we don’t know about, right. People in our families are trained to suppress their relationship to these things. And so, I mean, the world’s a different place in some ways.

Wait… what are you? Growing up mixed in a (sometimes) Black & white world
Panelists: Damaris Webb, Nora Colie, Ethan Johnson, Lex Weaver, Brianna Ortega, February 2021. Image courtesy of Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.

And so it’s not even inherently as problematic to be examining them. During college I lived in a small town and I was working at a grocery store and I remember one day a customer and I  were talking about kind of the loss of culture and he’s like, Well, just so you know, it’s always there for you.

And I remember when he said that I thought, I don’t feel like that’s true. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I didn’t have it when I was growing up and I don’t know how to get it. And it’s just gone and I can just go to Africa and they’d be like, What the fuck are you doing here? But I’ve been thinking about it more recently because of all this stuff, looking back at history, and now I’m starting to see these different parts of history that were otherwise invisible, and see myself in it. And so it is there for me to find. And so my whole point was, what I was thinking when you were talking about your dad and his kind of rejection and stuff, is that the Afro Contemporary Art Class and all my activities, Becoming Black and all these things, are for me in the ways that they’re for me, but they are also for young people. For me, I do what I can to create resources so that young people just have exposure and have access to this information and to celebrate their culture outside of like rapid pop culture, which, you know, they are their own things.

And I’m also using the Rihanna x Lorna Simpson collaboration to share that message. But it’s also interesting because all of these entities and forces are essentially often cultivated for, by, with, through the money of essentially a white gaze, which again, isn’t inherently problematic. 

I find myself less excited to even use conceptual ideas that have been nurtured and fostered and created by white people. And for that reason I’m thinking about Rirkrit Tiravanija’s thoughts, who’s a Thai artist. If you look at his work, you might also kind of see it as pandering or engaging with, you know, a Eurocentric perspective. But I learned later, who knew, that a lot of his intentions and work were like—the entirety of aesthetic culture is dominated by a colonial white Euro perception and history. And he’s questioning, What is the version of this that didn’t have that? What is the Thai pinnacle of aesthetic and creative glory? That’s what he’s interested in. And think, Yes, yes. This. 

I was on a class trip with my MFA program and we were at an exhibition in Canada. It was actually a white dude who was a real estate dude who owned a lot of Black art. He had an entire exhibit of Kerry James Marshall’s, which I think was like the highest collection of them, which, once you start pulling the string and unravelling this, you’re thinking, Oh, this is messed up. Why is this white land manager owning all this stuff? In the Canadian structure, there are different tiers of galleries. So there’s an upper level, but this was just a personal gallery in his office building. It was open to the public, but you had to make an appointment. And then his trained art director person would come out and give you a tour. And so this young white lady spoke. Oh, look at all these Marshall’s, and so on. So that kinda went off the rails and I just stepped away. And thought, I don’t need this.

It was interesting. Because one of the first pieces we looked at was a Kerry James Marshall sculpture that was like a little bit classic. Kerry James Marshall said, Everyone says painting is dead. And he’s like, What the fuck do you mean painting is dead? Like, it’s literally been a conversation among white makers and different people. Black people have been withheld from accessing even the discourse or the platform or the space to be participating in this conversation. So how could it be dead when it hasn’t even really been a diverse discourse? And so, yeah, that remains. It was maybe decades ago that he made that statement. And here I am at the earlier part of my career and the ideas are just beginning as a discourse in my work, in a way that Kerry’s comments can be seen as having shifted the narrative in my individual life, the same way it can be seen as having shifted the narrative in the larger art world.

It’s interesting too with the uprising after the murder of George Floyd. All the art centers started asking, Oh, what if we had a Black artist? And so that’s happening, but it’s also starting to taper off. When it was first happening, I thought, Oh man, like, I got to take advantage of these opportunities. Now, I am thinking, Oh, I’m exhausted. Like I’m just going to chill out. But, will this all be here tomorrow? Do I need to take advantage of this now, before I don’t have it to take advantage of?  

I am working in my own lane and a lot of my concerns are global warming and overpopulation and ethics and all this other stuff. I’m tired of talking to adults who are just worried about politics. I’m interested in talking to young people so they can start being in a position when they’re older and I’m an invalid to be making decisions that are for the betterment of all of society. That is what my work is trying to do today, right now. And it just happens to have bent even more directly close to intercultural context, but it’s interesting because the original inception of the class was like, this class is for Black people, of Black people, by Black people and now people are like, Oh, let’s have this for everyone. And I’m like, Oh, interesting. Like, what does that look like? And so I have begun teaching non-Black people, and it’s interesting too.

Let’s say there is the class of all white people in the college iteration of the Afro Contemporary Art Class. What does it mean to just study Black artists? Why wouldn’t you just study Black artists? Like there’s enough, you know. You can sometimes end up studying only white artists. What happens if you are just leading your own inspirations via Black thought. So now this class that had some specific intentions on its inception is reaching farther and wider and is now just becoming a resource for all people and becoming a platform to support a specific demographic.  So far it has done well for me, just creating the platform and supporting the rest of my practice. And I imagine that as I continue to be able to grow my own access, it will exponentially increase its value for others. So, of all cultures and creeds.

Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. (they/them) received their BFA from Alfred University School of Art and Design and received their MFA in Art and Social Practice from Portland State University. After receiving their first degree Stevenson remained in the community, receiving an unofficial education from restaurant owners, shopkeepers, and organic farmers, which impacted their work as an artist. Stevenson has produced a variety of socially engaged, collaborative and interdisciplinary projects since 2009. After moving to Portland, Stevenson has exhibited work at KSMoCA, Tiny Gallery, Show Motel Florida, The Cohen Gallery with Public Annex, Columbia River Correctional Institution, and at PICA.

Brianna Ortega (she/her) is in her third year of the MFA program in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University. Through embedding herself in surf culture, Brianna Ortega uses art as a tool to explore the relationship between identity and place through questioning power in social constructs and physical spaces. She values making art in relationship with others at the global or local site. She engages with topics of gender, race, Otherness, place, and the in-between spaces of identity. Her work is multidisciplinary, spanning across performance, publishing, organizing, video and facilitation.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.

Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.

SoFA Journal
c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207