Dinner Without An Agenda with Petrushka Bazin

What is the role of the artist to educate society?

As an artist and educator, I consider this question often, if not daily. My practice is deeply rooted in responding to, confronting, and presenting contemporary culture and society. I am most interested in creating visualizations of people and place that are often omitted in larger historical and media contexts. Specifically, I make portraits of multi-disciplinary artists from the African Diaspora who identify with verdant green spaces as places of comfort and leisure.

Petrushka Bazin’s question struck me because of the close connection to my artist and teaching practice. I work with middle and upper school students in Brooklyn teaching drawing, painting, and digital arts. It is my job to create and facilitate how my students and audience understands and consumes narratives. Access is critical in this endeavor; access to different types of narratives, materials, and techniques with which to communicate and express ourselves through visual art. In graduate school, I learned about the rhizomatic theory. A rhizome is a “mass of roots,” the roots can grow from any part of the plant in every direction. I teach by always keeping the rhizome in mind. There must be multiple entry and exit points within curricula, art making, and education. As artists and educators, we cannot capture all students and audiences with singular thinking and techniques; and thus the importance of play and innovation.

Dinner with Petrushka, current Program Director at the Laundromat Project, independent curator, and arts administrator, touched on all of these things. Petrushka is captivating, funny, and engaging. She also listens closely, taking notes when each artist spoke around our long family-style table at Pachanga Patterson. It felt like dinner with a friend. We divided our table into two groups because the restaurant was bustling that Tuesday. We had questions for each other. Valentina asked: can art exist only as a service and not for aesthetic purposes? We discussed the many aspects of that idea; art as a service, as a way to reach people who would not have access to particular ideas otherwise. Creative Time’s fall experience Funk, God, Jazz, Medicine came up. I recalled attending Simone Leigh’s Free Peoples Medical Clinic at Stuyvesant Mansion where artists and collaborators provided free massages, acupuncture, yoga, dance, and workshops on Affordable Care Act navigation and HIV Screenings. These are necessary services. Artists have a way of connecting to community that government does not. Leigh’s piece was equal parts service and aesthetic. In a way, all artworks should provide some service, even if it a small personal connection, a small shift in the viewer, that too, is a service. Art allows us to look at ourselves, to see and interact with different parts of our identity.

The conversations flowed and carried on out of the restaurant and onto the N train. On the ride home, Reya and I talked about performance, the role of documentation in performance art, and the importance of process in all things. We both got off at Atlantic Avenue, conversations unfinished, hugged and went our separate ways. Dinner without an Agenda was just that, it was the beginning of many great discussions, relationships with the Queens Museum, and connections to other working artists. Not bad for a Tuesday.

— Naima Green

Image: Rhizome Iterations 1 and 2 by Naima Green, 2015

This post is part of our series on Dinners Without an Agenda where guests authors react to the events they attend. Read on at this link for the rest.