Constant Black Migration: Antoine Williams’s Othered Suns
Meet North Carolinian artist Antoine Williams, creator of a wheat paste and sound installation on a new temporary structure for public art behind the Rubenstein Arts Center.
The Rubix is a temporary experimental structure behind the Rubenstein Arts Center, designed to be flexible support for visual and installation art research. While the Ruby remains closed to the public, the Rubix is now a new work of public art.
Antoine Williams used the Rubix as canvas for his work Othered Suns, a wheat paste and sound installation. Williams is a mixed-media artist and educator who uses art to explore his cultural identity. Born in the small town of Red Springs in Robeson County, NC, Williams now lives in Greensboro and is assistant professor of art at Guilford College. His most recent art project “explores the physical, emotional, psychological, and temporal landscapes Black bodies have had to continuously traverse in order to find spaces of freedom.” In Spring 2021, Williams will work with students in “Intermediate Drawing” (taught by Bill Fick, lecturing fellow, Art, Art History & Visual Studies).
I spoke to Williams about pop culture, his process, and what inspires him.
As an artist, what feelings go through your head when you’re sharing a piece of work with the public for the first time?
I don’t ever think about it. I think more about the piece in and of itself—about the process and the making of it, rather than what happens after. I think about logistics. I don’t think I ever get nervous. If I’m good with the piece, I’m okay with it going up in a public place.
If anything, I’m always interested in reactions to it, where the imagery takes people.
Do you always want an audience to understand the deeper meaning behind your art pieces, or are you alright with it sometimes only being registered as something visually appealing?
I try to make all of my work engage people on multiple layers. I try to make things that are aesthetically pleasing—if people only want to engage with it in that way, that’s okay. I’m okay with not everybody getting every single aspect of my art. I actually think that’s more interesting, because if I laid everything out for you, then there’s nothing for you to do, right? I think the audience needs to do a little bit of investigative work with a piece.
You have said that you’re inspired by science fiction writers, including H.P. Lovecraft. The HBO series Lovecraft Country was a hit this fall. Did you watch the show, and did it give you any new ideas or inspire you in any way?
Yeah, I watched it. I read the book actually. I really loved the show. H.P. Lovecraft’s type of science fiction was really niche. He creates this really interesting world, but he did not want people like me reading it. I felt that conflict for years.
“For the most part, if you’re making contemporary art in America, you move in mostly white spaces.”
Seeing his work appropriated and sort of merged with radical Black culture in Lovecraft Country is really refreshing for me. I’ve always wanted to see this type of cosmic science fiction mix with Black culture. That is what I do with my work.
The show is actually way better than the book!
Do you change the goal of your artwork according to its location or who will see it?
For the most part, if you’re making contemporary art in America, you move in mostly white spaces. Unless there’s like a very specific piece or project, I don’t really switch up. I am making work for myself. I’m looking at life, I’m experiencing things, and then I respond to them.
Regardless of if my work is in a predominantly white space or predominantly Black space, it’s still the same work.
You reference afropessimism in your work. Can you talk about this and why it inspires you?
I understand afropessimism as the idea that society views Black people as non-human (hence how Black people have been and are treated). Therefore, afropessimism argues that Black folks and our narrative are different from other oppressed peoples. Frank Wilderson suggests there isn’t any Black equilibrium, only disequilibrium. So, it is a pessimistic view of other theories or ideas around reaching Black liberation and justice.
This is not nihilism (where one isn’t doing anything). It’s being skeptical. It does not mean don’t fight for freedom. I take it as we are doubting everything as we go along and understanding we may never get to that place of liberation.
In regard to the installation, even with physical space, we still can’t find this freedom, so we find creative spaces. Afrofuturism, for instance, talks about Black people traveling to the future or to outer space. There was even the Back-to-Africa movement in the twenties. It’s us constantly moving and migrating to try to find a space where we can live without white supremacy. But we keep running into it. I was really inspired by the book by Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns. It really inspired me to think about this idea of Black people as constantly moving.
Veronica Niamba is a senior from Las Vegas, NV, studying History and Visual Media Studies. As a content creator for Duke CASTs, she hopes to bring light to different stories and experiences within the arts community in Durham and beyond.