Whether she is exploring the memories of a family member or forgotten history alongside a river bank, artist Tia-Simone Gardner uses geography to tell a story.
“My interests are in geography and time,” she said. “So, I’m trying to think about how gender and geography, … with the economy, can end up moving people around.”
Gardner is an interdisciplinary artist and black feminist scholar, as well as a core faculty member at the School of Art this season. She will be speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 16 in the Hultquist Center, as part of the Visual Arts Lecture Series.
In her talk, Gardner will discuss two of her recent projects: “Reading the River: Yemaya and Oshun” and a currently untitled project.
Both deal with aspects of her identity as a black woman who grew up near Birmingham, Alabama.
In “Reading the River,” Gardner examines the geography and history of the Mississippi River. She was inspired after moving to the Midwest to earn her doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
“I started to think about the relationship between the Midwest and the South, and this river that is like a crack in the country,” she said. “It also marks time and American history in a certain way.”
This project also explores indigenous relationships with the river; Yemaya and Oshun are the names of salt and freshwater deities in Ifá and other Yoruba religious traditions. For this project, Gardner has focused on port cities like St. Paul, Minnesota, and New Orleans, utilizing archives and recording herself walking alongside the Mississippi River with a body camera.
Her untitled project is extremely personal to Gardner’s family; she is working with her mother to document the various homes of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother as they moved around Mississippi and Alabama.
“My mother’s side of the family didn’t migrate South to North like a lot of black families did,” Gardner said. “They migrated within the South.”
Gardner and her mother have used aerial photographs, drones and drawings of memories to locate the homes or whatever remains of them.
Gardner has enjoyed collaborating with her mother, who she said is a creative person despite never having the resources to pursue art herself.
“It’s nice to work with her, because there’s so many things that she’s seen and some of it’s really traumatic,” she said. “Talking about something that seems as mundane as a house has been a nice point of entry.”
During her time at Chautauqua, Gardner will lead the students and emerging artists at the School of Art in archival and research-based practices. She emphasized the importance of seeking out more sensory, “ephemeral archives.”
“Practices like walking can illuminate how we understand a place,” she said.
Gardner has never been to Chautauqua, and is excited to explore the unique environmental and cultural landscape and learn about indigenous cultures native to the region.
“I’m curious to meet this place and (to) meet the students,” she said.