Multidisciplinary artist and cultural connector, Todd Thomas Brown’s experience spans 20 years of integrating artistic disciplines and small-scale arts presenting within the context of community cultural development. In 2003, Brown founded the Red Poppy Art House, and seeded the Mission Arts & Performance Project (MAPP). In 2007, together with Meklit Hadero, he co-founded the music ensemble Nefasha Ayer – The Space of In between, a recipient of grants from the San Francisco Foundation and Zellerbach Family Foundation. He is an alumnus of the de Young Artist Fellow and Artist-in-Residence program and sits on the de Young’s Community Engagement Artist Council. Brown’s 2011/12 Artist Fellowship with the de Young Museum sparked his current direction of mixed-media works “The Biology of Ancestors,” and the related multi-disciplinary development of “Teobi’s Dreaming,” for which Brown was recently awarded an Individual Artist Commission by the San Francisco Arts Commission, and which is scheduled to premiere by mid 2013. Meanwhile, you’ll find him at the center of “the Itch,” Investing in the Creative Hunch, a social-cultural network platform that he has been developing through leveraging social networking value in the service of individual artist projects.
(image by Paul Waters)
From “The Biology of Ancestry in the Making of Now”
“The Biology of Ancestry in the Making of Now” is a series of mixed-media paintings in which I explore the interweave between past and present, biology and identity. The work reflects the present stage of a multi-disciplinary process I began last year with an Artist Fellowship at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. There I explored themes of inheritance and transformation through a new series of paintings as well as through an experimental performance work that utilized improvised monologue, musical composition, and dance/movement. A conversation between these two processes emerged as each began to inform the other. The result was a concept of the “biology of ancestry,” an imaginative inquiry into identity.
What happens when I begin to perceive that I am the living sum and dynamic of my ancestors before me, of a line of beings that literally extends back to the origins of humanity? We seldom consider ourselves in such a light, and yet each of us are this; a complex and nearly indefinable amalgamation of bio-cultural characteristics that have traveled and mutated across time, from one organism into the next. The present organism looks out through its present eyes, trying to understand the world it sees, and to see it itself within it in some cohesive fashion. There is an intuition of self, and yet his self is made of a multitude that came before. What happens when we deeply consider this fantastic idea that our ancestors are living through us? Your particular smile, or laugh, or temper, were they not possessed by someone before you, by many, who perhaps lived centuries if not millenniums before? How do we both absorb this inheritance and remake ourselves anew? How do we live with the many of who we are?”
As the self becomes seen as many selves, the concepts of individual and collective grow blurred, and personal, national, and cultural histories morph into one another. Integrating this vision into work, I use paint and collage to lay down an interweave of layers of lines and stripes, lines of generations and stripes of nations, conflicting ideologies and personal histories, simultaneous and in succession. Through hand-written script I juxtapose a narrative of the perceived individual I am against the matrix of this collective human history, posing questions to the ancestors within my cells, my living DNA. Through this process, I begin to glimpse how we are each a full and living accomplishment of the millenniums of human beings before us, having survived since before the splitting of the continents. Each one of us has made it this far. Our lives were not made at our births, rather they were handed down, pulsating gifts that have traversed all of time since the beginning. We are, indeed, the now of our ancestors. And to consider how many of them are unknown within us, invokes within me the most profound sense of curiosity and awe.