This Starts With Her Breaking The Law And Ends With All Of Us In Awe

Artist Caledonia Curry, aka Swoon, talks about her start in graffiti and how that caused her to end up in the most unlikely of places, from her perspective.

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Caledonia Curry: My name is Caledonia Curry. I also go by the artist name, Swoon.

When I started making work outside while I was in school, I would actually sell things out of my apartment to people who will like managed to find me. And then like their sister-in-law and then their neighbor, and like I would just somehow like get through six months that way and be like, "OK, this is working." Then, I got this e-mail from MOMA and they were very like, "Can you stop by?" and I was like, "What do you mean?" They were like, "Just bring a couple of things." I remember that I biked all that stuff there on my backpack. And it was like stacking like 8 feet on my backpack. And it was just funny to me at that time. "Look, here I am bringing my work to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art on my bicycle, on my backpack." It was just funny anyway.

Pretty shortly thereafter, I did my first solo show with [art] projects and everything changed. In the fine arts world, I've done a lot of projects. In the street art community, I think that's where I'm most well-known. Street art had this kind of explosion recently. The way that I feel about it is that it is like a healthy practice that a healthy city to have people making things and putting them outside and like being a part of the visual creation of their neighborhoods.

When you're sort of like looking at your life and your society and the problems that were beset with, I think that for me, I always really struggled with how to be who I was as an artist and yet be able to interact directly with some of those issues. My relationship with image-making is such that sometimes, the only way to really move through something is to make work on the subject.

Just last year, when my mom passed away, she was struggling particularly hard with her dictions and mental illness in the couple of years before her death. And so, I had sort of started directly dealing with some of that stuff, and so a whole section of the imagery that's in the Brooklyn Museum is both about that struggle, and then is about the process of her illness and death, and then is also just about kind of thoughts on motherhood and sort of creating images of nurturing that were perhaps missing from the original picture.

That piece had such a personal significance about this most recent period of my life, and so it felt like the show was just able to have a more complex narrative. I do kind of feel like the function of the artist, sometimes, can be to be in a mental and an emotional sort of processor for some of these thoughts and then to try and share that. And so, for me, taking on some of these subjects is my attempt to do that first wave of processing about what is it? How do we understand this psychologically? How do we understand this emotionally and instinctively and in all these other ways, besides logically? Because we are going to have to understand it in all of these ways if we are going to find ourselves in a position to really take it on.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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Original video by The New York Times. You can catch her show, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands, at the Brooklyn Museum through Aug. 24, 2014.

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