M'Shinda Abdullah Broaddus
Interview by Katie Parker
Photographs by Egan Parks
How did you end up in Cincinnati?
I was trying to figure out how to utilize my skills – I went a visual performance art high school – and wanted to go to industrial design school. I researched the industrial design programs and DAAP was the best industrial design school in the country, but then I secretly applied to fine arts and was accepted and then came to Cincinnati. My dad was not too fond of me getting a fine arts education at first.
How did you get into ceramics?
I was always pretty into ceramics, even in high school art classes. I knew that when I came to UC I wanted to do ceramics because you can make anything out of clay. It is an intuitive medium and it can be mindless. I value that in making. I think it is also impossible to control and my practice is the only place in my life I can roll with the punches. It is the only place in my life I can relinquish control.
You went to work and be a resident artist at Richard Carter’s studio last summer in Pope Valley, CA. Can you talk about how changing your landscape, moving to a new place and a new studio affected your practice?
Being there was the first time I was living as a working artist unrelated to education. I was looked at as a peer not a student and it gave me confidence as a maker. It gave me freedom to explore ideas. Being in a place so secluded and so removed from the distractions of everyday life showed me how much time I spend being unproductive. And how much time I can spend working through ideas that aren’t physically touching clay. There are so many things that can benefit what you are making that aren’t related to being in the studio. I also wrote a book when I was there, it gave me a chance to unplug and check in with myself and figure some shit out.
Being back in Cincinnati after that experience has got to be a little bit of a culture shock. You had a taste of total artistic freedom and a life that revolved around solely around the studio - which very few people get to experience. How do you hold onto that?
I just acknowledge how cathartic that was, and work with everything I learned and experienced. I would like to be an artist in residence again. I want to put myself in a similar position again because I did find it so valuable. The freedom was so beautiful but if it was constant I wouldn’t miss it as much. It shows me what I need in my practice.
Currently this semester you have been pushing the boundaries of your practice, using a voice that seems more vocal and urgent rather than merely fulfilling senior assignments or making the typical work that comes out of the ceramics department. Can you talk about that?
Yeah. I think the thing that fuels my work is that when you look at history and you look at demographics of people who have struggled in our country, the plight of black people is an outlier. When you look at gay, trans, etc. these movements have made ample progress. The black movement has not made progress and it is getting worse. My eyes are open to how many people do not know this. They think we have come so far and I think we are staying in place. I want people to understand what they think they understand. What’s hard is that because they think they understand it they are not as open to listening.
How can you help your peers listen? What do you want to them to hear?
I think I can make my peers listen by spelling it out in as many ways possible. That is the current goal of my work. I want them to hear the cries of underrepresented communities, because there is a system in place that has always been in place designed to stifle the progress of minorities. It is important to acknowledge that system so that we can stifle its progress.
As an educator, how can I best help and encourage students like you?
By absorbing the information on the same level as any other viewer, and understanding that you may not understand, which is understanding.
We first started really talking when you told me that you don’t see anyone like you teaching art at UC. Who does a young, black, gay, male have to look up when all the faculty members are older and white. You asked who can help you. So I want to put that question back to you and ask for advice to give future students who don’t see themselves represented and want guidance.
Make yourself heard. You just have to make yourself heard. I think that understanding that the rest of your life is going to be, the struggle is going to be finding those people who look like you, and tackling issues that only effect you to look up to. And to do your best to become that for other people like you. The reality is, people that look like you aren’t employed to become influential figures in our society and if we want them we have to create them ourselves and become them.
I think about that day a lot, where you told me this isn’t working.
I think about that a lot too. I thought it was school and it isn’t school. I am trying to figure that out right now too.
Katie Parker is an Associate Professor and Ceramics Chair at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.
M’Shinda Abdullah-Broadus is a Fine Arts Senior at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.