Questions by Tim Brown, Hillyer Director
When did you become interested in collecting art?
Adam Odomore, Curator (AD):
I first developed an interest in collecting as a high school student at the age of 17. I did not have knowledge of art or collecting; I just loved it for what I saw. Growing up in Nigeria, art was something I was not exposed to. In junior secondary school, I paid a friend to draw skeleton figures for my biology classes because I lacked the skill or confidence to draw. In 2010, I moved from Nigeria to Texas to finish my senior year of high school. I met a classmate, a girl whose artwork I admired. I commissioned her to make a portrait of my baby brother Logan for his first birthday. I wanted to give him something as a gift to capture his being and beauty in a picture that my aunt had taken of him. This was the first original work of art I ever purchased, and which still remains at my parents’ home in Texas. When I attended college. I obtained prints for my dorm, and later acquired paintings from my friend and college mate Ryan Runcie during his solo show in Austin, Texas. I got two small portraits from that show and later commissioned another small portrait of myself of the same size as the first two. All 3 works just got reunited after being separated for about 4 years or so. I am really happy about that.
In addition to being an avid collector, you are also a practicing artist. How does your personal work inform your interests as a collector and curator?
These days, I find it hard to call myself an artist because I only create art that I enjoy and love for me first. It’s rare that I show my work. I create art for my own collection in a variety of mediums and these are works I love to live with. The works that I create and collect fit seamlessly because as a curator, I am curating my own collection as well. So, within my collection, they are sub-genres and multiple exhibitions based on ideas and stories I want to tell, feel and wish are being told based on how I see the world and my experience. For me, creating art that I want to live with and collecting works that mirror my desires and how I want to live is sort of very autobiographical and therapeutic for me. Because in 2020 during the pandemic art literally saved my life. I found my deep passion for creating and working with art through a tough period in my life, being unemployed and lacking health. It has allowed me to heal, reflect, deepen my awareness and through literature and written works by black women, I was able to enter into and come into a new way of being and seeing things that help me free myself from expectations or ideas of societal norms. Art helps shift my being. So today, I am deeply aware of and grateful for all of these experiences and conversations that I get to experience and come into through art by being a participant in the spaces where these works are having conversation with each other and speaking with a realness that we don’t get to experience in contemporary society and on issues that are important to me.
So, because of this I get to approaching the work with empathy and an openness to understanding. Engaging in honest dialogue. Curating and collecting are about stewarding with care. Creating an impressive collection with accessibility. In my work as a curator and my journey as a collector, I desire to create a space where people can feel seen and know that their own stories and dreams matter. Those at the margins are now the center. A soft and gentle collection that results from intention and opportunity. One that reflects and mirrors life and who I am, who I want to be more of. Living a soft, gentle and slow life is what I do and want for myself. So, my collection is one, that through my interaction with it helps me become more of and helps me imagine that which I desire most, to be at ease and living a whole and salubrious life with tenderness. A sum of my creation, collection and curation together as exceptionally unified whole that perfectly reflects the evolution of my eye, experiences, growth, taste and desire for change. Creating, collecting and curating art for me is about affirming black humanity through the arts.
Have you curated other exhibitions? If so, what was the focus of those shows and how were they similar and/or different from your current exhibition at Hillyer?
Yes, I curated two other exhibitions before this one. My first show was for Marquell Simms titled In So Many Words at the Homme gallery in DC. In 2022, I curated my first conceptual exhibition for the Zawadi gallery and boutique titled What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? The exhibition featured five multigenerational Black women from the diaspora working in the DMV area.
The exhibition was about reclamation, reaffirmation, self-representation, and a homage to and of the self–a celebration. Centered on intentional ideas, experiences, and moods, each work in the exhibit embodied elements not allowed us in society, evoking intentional healing, devotion, self-reflection, and prayer, as if part of an emotional ecosystem. Like my current show, the exhibit was about helping people heal and finding ways to love and feel safe.
My personal journey as a curator is reflected in this radical approach to truth telling, while providing safe spaces to express ourselves openly. Writings by Black women like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, etc., have helped me free myself, while helping me to articulate the broader dimensions race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, geography, etc. within a patriarchal, capitalist, white-supremacist, imperialist world.
I curate to help us re-imagine another way of being and seeing. As Constance Baker Motley said, sometimes what we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.
I noticed that aspects of your work are informed by black feminist thought. Why do you feel this is important when addressing care and blackness?
I like this question because I think first it lets me give thanks to Black women for their work in helping us free ourselves. Black feminist thought is important in this work of care and blackness specifically because Black women writers, artists, mothers, sisters, friends who are truth tellers, seekers, healers, archivists, caregivers who have found ways to pass their knowledge and experiences on to future generations like us.
We now have the opportunity to use this knowledge, oral wisdom, and history to articulate our suffering, speak out, claim our own healing, joy, peace, love and happiness. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
I think that we need to acknowledge and celebrate the Black feminist origins of care. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” These are the words, by Audre Lorde, a Black, civil rights activist, writer, lesbian and feminist that captures the idea of care that will be alien to many today, especially when compared to the current, whitewashed and highly commercialized interpretation. And agreeing with Bryony Porteous-Sebouhian from their writing on the same subject, I know that care as it relates to blackness, as it was for Audre Lorde, wasn’t about buying a candle, a new herbal tea, or any other form of consumerism. Care was a radical act when occurring in a space where something tries to kill you every day and fail. That is care worth celebrating when you can build a sustainable life even within that. “The ultimate act of resistance is self-love” (Billie Zangewa) and “in a moment of tenderness, the future seems possible” (Saidiya Hartman). Black women are the foundation of freedom and ultimate care. As the Combahee Collective espoused, if Black women are free, we are all free because that would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression.
Similarly, a major focus of your current exhibition is about providing care and safe spaces for black bodies in the context of a patriarchal, capitalist, white-supremacist, imperialist world. Why do you feel this is an important topic to address in today’s art world?
In looking at the complexity and ways in which Black bodies and people of color have to navigate a world where most of the things they are thrown at is anti- to their identity, I do believe that intentionally creating spaces where people can see themselves in the works and their being affirmed, their stories validated and centered is very important in this culture and art world. The complex dynamics of both institutional and interpersonal racism for people of color are compounded when they interact with other socio-economic factors is one thing I learned and first-hand even most recently. Art is and can be an avenue for self-expression, re-imagination, interrogating and transformation. And art spaces can function as that safe space for dialogue. I think this is why museums as cultural institution and a space of convening for many people of all different background is important and need to keep evolving and find ways to include more diversity in their collection, programming and in their staff, so it represents the community and the ideas that are important to them.
Art and exhibition spaces can redefine how we view and understand black people throughout the African diaspora. How do you envision your practice going forward?
At this time, I am really grateful to be doing what makes me happy and have an impact. Art is a tool to help people heal and to re-imagine the changes they desire to live a whole and sustainable life. I hope to keep using this tool to help us get closer to our higher good with hope of one day leading an organization that focuses in part or solely on that. In the meantime, I am excited to keep growing, making meaningful connections and finding ways to support artists and communities. Creating a space to re-frame our narratives is intentional.
As Dr. Samella Lewis once remarked: “Art is not a luxury as many people think – it is a necessity. It documents history – it helps educate people and stores knowledge for generations to come.”