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Continuing our analysis of the contemporary art world, we catch up with Guam-born artist Tameka Norris to discuss exactly what it means to be an emerging artist in the 21st century.

Tameka Norris is a New Orleans-based artist who has a multi-disciplinary practice which includes video, painting, performance and most recently filmmaking. She was named on Modern Painters Magazine’s list of 24 Artists to Watch in 2013 and just opened her show, “Almost Acquaintances,” in March 2014 at Ronchini Gallery in London amidst much fanfare. The exhibition, which focuses on her relationship to New Orleans pre- and post-Katrina is yet another example of her rapidly growing reputation as a young, thought-provoking artist. After all the press surrounding young artists at auction, we met up with Norris to chat about developing a reputation as a young artist today.

Considering your multi-disciplinary approach to art making, using performance, music and now film, what made you decide to become an artist amongst these other options?

Well I think when I was very young I didn’t know I was an artist. I was very imaginative – often making up clothing, styling and playing by myself. I was always doing stuff on my own to keep myself company. When I was about 20 I met a young woman that wanted to photograph me. The idea of her photographing me as her artwork made me think. I realized that if I photograph myself it becomes my artwork. That made a difference. So I enrolled at the same community college that she attended and I learned my own artistic language. So I don’t know that I decided to be an artist.

For not knowing that you wanted to be an artist, you have developed a strong reputation. Modern Painters Magazine has included you on its list of the 24 Artists to Watch in 2013. Would you, at this stage in career, consider yourself an emerging artist?

Yeah, I mean sure I do because I think that there are several layers of emerging. You can be emerging and be on people’s periphery and the work can be emerging in a different way. My work is emerging. I am stretching out my medium even further by making a film. When you’re trying to prove yourself to the public, to the medium or to yourself, you are still emerging.

The idea of “emerging” seems linked, whether in reputation or in practice, to the process of development. How important was your undergraduate at UCLA for your growth as an artist?

It made all the difference. I couldn’t be an artist in the world right now without the credentials of UCLA and Yale behind my name. It’s like a stamp, a sort of branding. Although aware of it, I didn’t pursue the branding because I had been living in Los Angeles for 15 years and it just made sense to go to UCLA. I knew it was a good school and I wanted to go there. I felt like I wasn’t going to leave Los Angeles until Los Angeles paid me back for giving me such a hard time. UCLA basically gave me free education and that was well enough of reward.

As a result, I got to work with artists that at that time I had no idea of their status. Names like, Larry Pitman, Barbara Kruger, Cathie Opie, Andrea Frazier, Mary Kelly all at UCLA. Even at community college at Santa Monica, I worked with Ron Davis and Linda Lopez. They were two very different professors. Ron spoke very abstractly and his words would bruise my brain. I would stay up all night trying to interpret his sort of language and Linda was more like a hippy, soul-seeking, soul-healing teacher. Those things combined taught me two different perspectives. I spent five years at community college, it was a very long journey, and then three years at UCLA. These people really helped me find a structure for my work and I was able to experiment. I did performance, video and lots of painting, so I was really proud of my time there.

How about your graduate experience at Yale?

Yale was a tougher experience because it was a different type of city. It was a college town and I’ve never lived in such a specific type of environment. Downtown New Haven has a lower socioeconomic aesthetic with halfway houses and sober houses all around, so it was a really tough environment to be in. However, the level of focus that I had on figuring out my work and what I was doing was so intense that I do not regret it.

Bearing in mind the reputation of both UCLA and Yale, how much impact did they have on you developing an audience and ultimately a reputation? 

I don’t know, I mean I’m guessing a lot. It’s really hard to know one’s audience. I have no idea what the scope of my audience is. In a way those schools helped give me a voice to make stronger, better work but I don’t know that they are actively promoting or discussing my work. However, I do definitely think that my time there gave me a platform to make the best work that I can make.


Support Tameka’s latest project here.

Norris will unveil her fist feature length film at the Prospect 3 Biennale in New Orleans, which is curated by Franklin Sirmans. “Almost Acquaintances” runs until March 29 at Ronchini Gallery, London.

This article was written by Houghton Kinsman for Highsnobiety.com

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