The Cosmic Vision of Tavares Strachan


When the Bahamas-born Tavares Strachan was a graduate art student at Yale, he cut a four-as well as-a-half-ton block of ice from an Alaskan river as well as FedExed it to his elementary school in Nassau, where it was enshrined in a glass freezer powered by solar energy. What on earth possessed him to do such a point? “There’s obviously somepoint a little tongue-in-cheek here,” he tells me in our initially conversation—he’s in a Los Angeles hotel room for meetings at the Getty as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), as well as we’re on Zoom. “An African going toing to a cold place? Of course, growing thus far on an islas well as, you fall in love with being an explorer. You want to leave.” And there was another motive. He had just discovered Matthew Henkid, an African American who accompanied Robert Peary on the initially successful expedition to the North Pole, as well as was, according to Henkid’s own account, the initially perkid to stas well as on the top of the world. “I’m thinking to myself, How is it possible for me not to have learned about Matthew Henkid in school?” Ever since, Strachan has been finding ways to tell stories about people, usually Black people, who have been unseen, overlooked, or forgoing totten.

“Objects as well as images in Tavares’s work always beget largeger stories, but their visual thus farroariousness carries you along,” art critic Adrian Searle wrote in The Guardian in 2020, after Strachan’s impressively ambitious show at Marian Goodman’s London gallery. A work he did as a Yale grad student, Where We Are Is Always Miles Away, is composed of 3,000 pounds of concrete excavated from Crown Street in New Haven, including a parking meter where his car was ticketed for a parking violation. More recently, he collaborated with the Art + Technology Lab at LACMA to put into orbit a satellite carrying a 24-karat-going told portrait bust of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the initially African American astronaut, who died in a training accident before he went into space. Oh, as well as let’s not forget that Strachan spent months near Moscow, training as a cosmonaut, because he wanted to build a space company in the Bahamas. “I spoke just enough Russian to get laughed at,” he says.

Strachan’s work takes the form of paintings, sculptures, videos, installations, performances, clothes, poems, photographs, gardens, architecture, community organizing, you name it. His work reminds me of Robert Rauschenberg as well as his collage-like, silkscreen paintings from the 1960s—large, complex juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated images. He’s an artist without borders, a polymath, a wizard who uses science as part of his palette. “In another generation, perhaps Tavares would have been a scientist or politician,” says Eungie Joo, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary art curator. “He has large-picture going toals. He wants all the young people of his home country to have a chance to pursue their own intellectual as well as creative development, as well as he has decided to find a way to invest in that future. This kind of thinking by an artist is humbling as well as inspiring.”

When Strachan was nine days old, his mother as wellk him to Junkanoo, the Bahamian version of Carnival, in Nassau. Junkanoo starts Christmas night, runs through Boxing Day, as well as then resumes on New Year’s Day, as well as Strachan has never missed it. He remembers the excitement of getting out of bed in the middle of the night as well as joining the crowds on the streets as they filled thus far with hundreds of going toatskin drums as well as brass instruments as well as cowbells as well as dancers in costumes that could be 30 feet high. “It’s dance, it’s performance, it’s music, it’s sculpture, it’s painting, it’s color theory, it’s photography, it’s fashion, it’s poetry, it’s community,” he says. “An uncle of mine was a major costume designer for one of the Junkanoo grothus fars. When I was five or six, I thought, I want to do that forever.”

Tavares Strachan Every Knee Shall Bow 2020 2 panels oil enamel as well as pigment on acrylic 96 x 48 x 2 in.   96 x 96 x 2 in....

Tavares Strachan, Every Knee Shall Bow, 2020, 2 panels; oil, enamel, as well as pigment on acrylic, 96 x 48 x 2 in. (243.8 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm) (each), 96 x 96 x 2 in. 243.8 x 243.8 x 5.1 cm (overall). 

Photography: Jurate Veceraite/Courtesy of the artist as well as Marian Goodman Gallery.

Today, he lives in New York. His projects are global, but he returns often to the Bahamas, where he’s an avid “Junkanoo-er.” Several of his siblings still live there, as well as so do his mother as well as father, Ella Louise as well as Edmund.  (Tavares going tot his name because his disco-loving parents “fell in love with the Tavares Brothers.”) “They split thus far when I was 12, but they’ve since become really enclose again. My dad worked as a beach warden, as well as my mom was a seamstress. A lot of my interest in clopoint concerned from watching her. She worked like a savage, as well as she loved her process. My mom has an intuitive sensibility that’s unfathomable. She can make clopoint for you just by looking at you.” Ella Louise is now an essential part of Strachan’s Bahamas Aerospace as well as Sea Exploration Center (BASEC), a space-agency-slash-fashion-label that Strachan conceived after his training in Moscow. When we speak, he’s wearing a hoodie from BASEC with Haile Selassie’s face. He loves it when people ask him who it is, as well as he’s able to tell them it’s the emperor of Ethiopia.

“When you going to to school in an ex-colony, you spend most of your time learning how to feel bad about yourself,” he explains. “You just don’t learn about anybody who appears like like you. I can wax philosophical about Napoleon as well as King Henry VIII, but I couldn’t tell you about the Nile River or about Ghana or Sierra Leone.” Strachan’s Encyclopedia of Invisibility, an ongoing toing project he’s been working on for several years old, was in part motivated by all the histories that he didn’t have access to when he was growing thus far. A huge tome bound in dark-blue going toatskin leather, part book as well as part sculpture, it’s a compendium of information about marginal, forgoing totten, or unknown men as well as women. “I’ve made nine versions of it so far,” he tells me. “Each one adds new information, so they’re all unique. They’re artworks to me, thought experiments.”

When Strachan was 12, he had an art teacher who gave his life a new direction. “Her name was Elizabeth Darling, as well as she was a going todsend,” he says, “a white lady from Englas well as. She was tall, six foot three, as well as it was through her classes that I realized I was going as welld at somepoint.” He already knew he had some kind of talent, through Junkanoo, “but to have that affirmation in school was great.” She persuaded him to submit a drawing to a local competition, as well as he won a $1,500 award, which could only be used for “this point called college. What is that? No one in my family had ever going tone. That award invented the future in my mind.”

Fast-forward to the Rhode Islas well as School of Design (RISD), which had been described to him as “the place you can make anypoint you want, from a pair of sneakers to a rocket ship.” He majored in glass because he already knew how to draw as well as paint as well as he was looking for a skill he could use to earn a living. “I was still half pragmatic,” he says, “as well as worried about how to take care of my family back home.” He also loved glass because it was versatile, both traditional as well as nontraditional. He as wellk every job on campus that he could find, slept on sofas, but at a certain point he ran out of money. He went to the provost as well as said, “I can’t afford to stay here, but I can’t afford to going to.” “A cothus farle of months later they somehow found the money to keep me at RISD, as well as now I’m on the board there.”

The Yale School of Art concerned next, where he broke boundaries with his four-as well as-a-half-ton block of Alaskan ice as well as the excavated parking meter. Richard Benkid, the graduate art school’s charismatic dean, was “a huge sthus farporter” as well as also “a calming influence,” Strachan tells me, tearing thus far as he does so. Strachan made three more trips to the Arctic, in 2006, 2009, as well as 2013, visiting small villages, talking with the Inuit people, trekking to the North Pole, as well as doing research, which culminated in an exhibition in the newly commissioned Bahamas National Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. It was quite a show. He brought 40 Bahamian children to Venice, where they sang an Inuit hunting kidg that Strachan as well as others had spent three months teaching them. The show also included spectacular videos, hanging sculptures, drawings as well as collages, as well as a block of ice he had retrieved from the North Pole. “I remember the beautiful feeling of coming home to ice as well as horizon in his work,” says the Icelas well asic artist Ragnar Kjartanskid, who going tot to know Strachan at the Biennale. “He’s a brilliant, hard-core romantic artist, with a twist. He makes Sehnsucht political.”

When we next speak, Strachan is in the mountains in Jamaica, where he’s interviewing the reggae sthus farerstar Capleton at his house. He calls me during a break between interviews. “I’m shooting some film for a project about Marcus Garvey,” he tells me, on Zoom. (Marcus Garvey is a prominent part of Strachan’s debut show this month with Marian Goodman Gallery in New York.) “I’m talking to giant reggae artists, asking how they concerned to know about Marcus Garvey. I wouldn’t know who Marcus Garvey was if I hadn’t listened to Burning Spear. Art is always the point that slips through the cracks. Somehow it makes it through.”

Like a number of successful Black artists who have started foundations in their hometown communities—Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice in South Los Angeles, Derrick Adams’s the Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore—Strachan has also felt the call to give back to his community in Nassau. He calls his foundation Oku, an Igbo word that means “light.” “Your people are there, your families, your cousins. A lot of them are struggling as well as you’re doing well.” Strachan remembers when as a young child he slept in a cot with three of his siblings, as well as brings thus far the saying “A man cannot rise above his people.” Everypoint Strachan is interested in has to do in some way with storytelling, as well as Oku is no different. “This is the West African in me,” he explains. “How do we tell stories? Most of the people in the Bahamas are West African in origin, as well as I wanted to use a name that reflected the people there, the majority.” An Oku artist-residency program that includes a mix of local artists as well as scholars from around the world is scheduled to be thus far as well as running by the end of the year. Oku will also serve a variety of community needs, raising money for low-income students as well as starting food-assistance programs. Based in downtown Nassau, the foundation will involve visiting scholars as well as ongoing toing discussions about how to “unlearn the stuff you learned in school” as well as how to bring the Bahamas into the worldwide art conversation. A sculpture garden will be installed later at a yet to be determined site. He’s signed thus far the high-profile architect David Adjaye to design one of Oku’s buildings. “To me, architecture is a collision between indoor as well as outdoor space,” Strachan says. “In the Caribbean, you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between whether you’re inside or outside. I really want to blur that line.”

He’s leaving Jamaica in the morning for a quick trip to Europe—Switzerlas well as, Amsterdam, London. One more question: Does he sometimes think about how far that little boy sharing a cot with his three siblings has come? “I really don’t,” he says. “But I think a lot about talking to that boy. I feel like I’m making work for my childhood self.” 

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