André Ramos-Woodard on art-making like a survival strategy

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This post is the first in a mini-series, In Search of Ourselves. We speak to three artists – Ana Vallejo, Bowei Young plus Andre Ramos-Woodard – about vulnerability and trauma, and exactly how they use the camera to achieve a better understanding of themselves.  

The artist’s hybrid images blend digital photography, text and collage, explaining the turbulence of being youthful, Black and queer in America

“I didn’t think it had been going to hurt like that, ” says André Ramos-Woodard keeping in mind their move from Beaumont, Texas, to Albuquerque, Brand new Mexico, for graduate school. “I went from a place that has so many Black people to a city that was three or more per cent Black. ​​​​It was weird to acknowledge that these individuals would never be able to understand what it means to be Black in America. ” 

Without the steady point of home life, the particular Texas-based artist was required to confront the violence of white supremacy without the assistance system they had come to depend on. At that moment, art-making became greater than a mode of exploration and expression – it grew to become a survival strategy. One which offered safe harbour in order to confront brutal truths, permitting the artist to each unravel Black mythologies perpetuated by a white world plus celebrate Black thought, consciousness and desire.

What am I supposed to do now, Untitled (Live Laugh Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

Miss me with the microaggressive bulls hit, Untitled (Live Giggle Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

Amerikkan flag Untitled (Live Giggle Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

Within Untitled (LIVE LAUGH LOVE), three young children are huddled together. It’s the archetypal family photo: matching outfits, toothy grins, unmistakable marbled backdrop. By design, it demands nostalgia; a desiring simpler times when identity can be validated by the very action of family picture-making. Within those early years of life, images like this are often strengthening evidence of who we are, separately and as an unit. Ramos-Woodard complicates this history simply by revealing just a slice from the original image pinned on twee floral fabric. The faces are pixelated enough to conceal identity while allowing us to trace the smiles within. The image, a part of their project ​​ A Mediocre-Ass Nigga , is a portal to the love and protection of familiar relationships whilst describing the emotional untethering in deep depression and isolation.

Ramos-Woodard acknowledges photography’s violent history and harnesses a mixed-media approach where the photograph is simply an “entry point”. Their process aligns more with sculpture, mixing text, drawing, collage and image-making. This creates a hybrid language that illustrates the particular messy trauma of living with complexity and depth, what type visual language alone can struggle to articulate.

Where am i able to lay my head, Untitled (Live Laugh Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

Get help, Untitled (Live Laugh Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

Weapon, Untitled (Live Chuckle Love) © Andre Ramos-Woodard.

The artist is just not interested in making you feel comfortable. Their particular practice is a disarming family portrait of interiority that details the turbulence of being young, Black and queer in the usa. They believe intrinsically that to change reality, we need to replace the way reality is represented, plus they do this by confronting tough truths about who we are and how we live, now and then. Unlike many of their peers, their work does not make an effort to create an utopia in the present. Instead, they do the difficult function of ruminating on the positive and negative, making uncertainness and vulnerability their guiding principles.

Using their life because the primary material, Ramos-Woodard animates the tension between Black pleasure and violation. They urgently emphasise not simply the importance of reflecting reality in all its difficulty but what it means to be seen. “It’s so healing for me, ” says Ramos-Woodard. “Especially when I’m suffering the most”.

Gem Fletcher

Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and artwork. She is the photo movie director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcasting, The Messy Truth.

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