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Duke University Arts

Kianga Ford, Visual Artist, Heads to Duke

Feb 21, 2012

Kianga Ford, Visual Artist, Heads to Duke

By Thea Neal

Kianga Ford often ponders where she's from. Despite originally hailing from Florida, her roots have spread all over the world, influencing her art installations that ask "what narrative space lies between people."

"I don’t think I'm really from anywhere anymore," she said. "But I spend a lot of time thinking about that question."

The first of her family to finish college, Ford says she brings "both the hustle and the sensitivity" — qualities she shares with her family members — to her art. Her work creates unusual spaces that often comment on society and economy. She intertwines dance and music within her performance installations. Recently, she created a space in Toronto which encouraged people to dance with strangers.

Ford attended Georgetown University and has done residencies from China to Nevada. She'll be a visiting artist at Duke from Feb 28-March 1. She recently spoke with Duke Today's Thea Neal about her work.
What should students expect out of your talk at Duke?

An honest conversation. I've made a lot of work in a relatively short career. I enjoy the occasion of these talks to string together different constellations of projects and think about how they fit together, to see what kind of sense I’m trying to make. These talks are really important for me as part of reflecting on and evolving the work. The questions that people ask are really vital, so maybe students should expect that I am inviting them to participate in the process.
Who or what inspires your work?

Short answer: everything. I'm not selective; I'm a synthesist. It's a good day when I can see the relationship between, say, Jennifer Hudson and the price of sugar.  It's a better day when I can make work that reflects those connections in a way that is engaging.
How did you come into the art world?

Almost by accident. I can't paint, and I don't draw, so this isn't really where I saw myself. I was working on a Ph.D. and realized that my argument was spatial as much at it was textual, so I went rogue and went to art school. Working in installation and site-specific experience, I am able to show people what I'm thinking about things like intimacy and community formation, rather than just telling them. I really enjoy being able to create conditions for collective analysis that are more than just my conclusions.
What's important for student artists to consider when trying to follow their dreams?

That, for a long time, you will be the only one who understands your practice, and you just have to tough it out through that desert and make what you feel inclined to make and look regularly back, with rigor, at the work that you've made. Whether you're getting a lot of attention or no attention, you are solely responsible for guiding your vision. Even if you're on the cover of ArtForum, you are still alone in your investment in and understanding of this work. Having more stakeholders can even make it harder to understand this condition. So, if you are actually alone for a while, with no critical feedback or market or whatever else you imagine comes with success, see this as a gift, as an honest reflection of the path that you have chosen and an unencumbered opportunity for you to continue to define your vision. And use your peers for communion rather than to measure yourself against. This is a long-distance race if you're lucky, so it doesn’t matter who looks like they are winning today or next year; if you stay with your practice over time, there is a success in that all its own.
What's the most interesting thing you've experienced lately?

I got an e-mail, out of the blue, from a student in Brazil who had read about a dance project I did in Toronto in 2010 (Dances with Strangers) and really connected with it.  She told me a story about her life, one of nomadism and living in between places - Europe, the U.S., Brazil. And she had a level of understanding of her movement that to me seemed quite extraordinary. To meet people that understand more than you do about what you’re trying to say and to be able to engage them in dialogue, that is one of the most incredible gifts of art.



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