Earlier today, the MoMA MoMA/PS1 blog INSIDE/OUT ran a new post by VCS alumna Shellyne Rodriguez about her involvement with UPNEXT, a program run through Midtown Community Court that helps unemployed men and non-custodial fathers provide emotional and financial support to their children. In the post, Shellyne talks about how her involvement with UPNEXT resonated so strongly with her own life:
Working with the members of the UPNEXT group it was hard for me not to think of my own dad, especially as so much about these men’s backgrounds and personalities reminded me of him. Good humored and boisterous, tough and tender, sometimes all at the same time. My father was not an active part of my life until I was older, and so much about their goals in this program mirrored my own experiences. My mother relocated to another state and my father, having spent some time incarcerated, struggled to rekindle a relationship with me, putting aside the pain of lost opportunities and the pain of missing out on large chunks of my formative years. So going into this, not only was I looking at this project through the lens of being a MoMA educator, I was viewing it through the lens of being a daughter as well.
A little further along, Shellyne describes meeting the men in the program and talking with them about what art might have to offer.
We talked about how art wants to “blow up” a certain level of truth, and how the act of looking at something closely is, in a sense, a peeling back of layers—a study in noticing what’s there beneath the surface, the so-called shadow that exists behind the artwork.
After further discussion, they arrived at the idea of a project inspired by the silhouettes of Kara Walker.
We began thinking about power dynamics in Walker’s work and the power dynamics that we exist within today. We considered the silhouette as an agent of negative space or as a shadow of truer selves, but also as Kara Walker sees them. Walker writes, “The silhouette says a lot with very little information, but that’s also what the stereotype does.” What does this say about those of us working on the project, a group that happened to have been made up almost entirely of African American and Latino participants? We left this an open-ended question and used it to fuel our project; creating our own series of Kara Walker–inspired silhouettes, based on our own experiences as either fathers or children.
There’s a lot more to read and see in Shellyne’s post, and it’s well worth checking out.
You can also learn more about the UPNEXT program at the following link:
UPNEXT (Center for Court Innovation)