SOULJA: An Interview with NYC Artist Cassandra
By Kip Doyle
[ART] New York City artist Cassandra wants viewers at full attention when her exhibit SOULJA debuts at the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art at 148 Elmwood in Allentown on Friday, June 3. Fittingly, her bold and eclectic work commands both awe for the skill involved and contemplation of the stories behind the imagery. There will be an opening reception with the artist from 6pm-9pm on Friday. The opening will include complimentary wine, hors d’oeuvres and live music by Greg Amato.
“If you are looking for art that matches the colors of your couch and lulls you to sleep, don’t come see SOULJA,” Cassandra said. “My art stops you in your tracks, makes you gawk and touches your soul.”
SOULJA features striking bronze sculptures, as well as murals and large prints with themes exploring feminism, homosexuality, Latin culture and more. The exhibit marks Cassandra’s debut in Buffalo. Her work has shown previously at the East/West Gallery in London and the Chopo Museum in Mexico City.
Her work is also on permanent exhibit at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, the world’s first dedicated LGBTQ art museum. There will be a special second reception for SOULJA on June 5 beginning at noon to coincide with the Pride Parade, which will pass by the gallery.
The artist-in-residence at Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!) in the South Bronx for over a decade, Cassandra’s current studio is in Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Many of your sculptures are very provocative. You’ve described them as “a tribute to sisterhood as well as an erotic, magical Sapphic dream of flight and liberation for the freedom to love.” What is the reason for this and what are you trying to get across?
Life invites us to signify. And if you’ve got a wee bit of consciousness of origins, you best holler and strut. There is nothing more deadening than the flight from significance and the cop out of being innocuous. As Le Chic says, “Don’t be a drag, participate.” Daring to give a damn is where it is at!
You’re a multitalented and multidimensional artist. What medium were you first drawn to, and what was the process like for you as added new mediums to your artistic arsenal?
The Beatles knew that you got to be good looking ‘cause it’s so hard to see. Fortunately, you don’t need a Ph.D. in art history from the Sorbonne to open your eyes and trust your sight. My dream as an artist has always been to forge symbols that encourage people to see and to be free.
Is there a medium that you get the most personal satisfaction out of, either during the process or when reflecting on the final product?
I am particularly interested in creating community altars and public monuments as a means to remembrance—in Spanish, recordar—to have in our hearts once again. My work explores how memory is the thread that guides us through the labyrinth of identity; how what we carry in our hearts makes us who we are. But much as I love to sculpt larger-than-life statues, I rarely get to do so for want of support. So I daydream about alternative strategies for producing forbidden monuments like giant solar-powered holograms or renegade parade floats and continue to make art by any means possible.
You’ve been a major part of the campaign for justice for Goldman Prize-winning Honduran land rights activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated on March 3. Can you talk about this work and how it relates to with your art?
The mighty Berta Cáceres, a Guardian of Rivers of the Lenca People, fought dams and dictatorship. I am profoundly moved by her bravery, her vision and her spunk. Gustavo Castro, who feigned death to survive the assassination, and in whose arms she died, is my friend. So, yes, I’ve helped organize a few protests at the United Nations (in New York City). But quite frankly I wonder if we are barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps, instead of the UN, we should be demonstrating in front of Banana Republic. Because as long as people in this country think that it is chic to bop down the block flaunting a shopping bag from a store whose name cynically celebrates US colonialism and coup d’etats in Central America, the heroines and peoples of Honduras are going to continue to be mowed down by machine guns bought with our tax dollars. But back to Berta. Berta saw the big picture. She knew that it wasn’t just a question of stopping the 51 dams imposed on Lenca territory and ensuring the return of the rule of law to Honduras. Berta bore witness to Mother Earth and exhorted humanity to wake up.
How did you come to be connected to the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery in Buffalo?
The founders of the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery, Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann, are fierce, beautiful people and if you don’t know them, you should. A decade ago, I had the good fortune of meeting this dynamic duo in the struggle to keep the planet from being barbecued and have romped and caused trouble with them in sundry paradises and hells ever since.
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