Tramika LaBranche: “I aim to start a conversation on race and not let fear stop it.”

By Jasa McKenzie / Edited by Jes Reyes

Tramika LaBranche is an artist who surpasses the barrier of language through art. Her work addresses topics such as sexuality, gender, and concerns that relate to how people of color (PoC) are depicted in different facets of the world. In this interview, Tramika describes how her work is never complete until it inspires conversation. “My work mainly deals with portrayal of PoC from the LGBTQIA+ community who have been murdered for being different, my homeland Haiti and our struggles.”

Tramika LaBranch, Ae Featured Artist

Tramika's self portrait aims to rupture the race barrier by inviting the audience to engage in a conversation of race. She steers the focus away from the history of race and urges viewers to ask themselves what is the next step in beginning to change the way we perceive race. In regards to her piece Uncanny M. Mask in the I AM exhibition she states, “A viewer might ask, 'If I see this image as being a primate/monkey, then am I racist?' 'Am I viewing her as a black person in light of her race and not her intellect or what she may bring into the world?'  Viewers may also fear that if they judge this image as a primate/monkey, then the artist is judging them as ignorant, closed-minded people.”

Once she starts a project, she has to remind herself to eat and sleep. She strives to further her extensive research on the topics of her passion. She intends to create more pieces concerning sexuality and gender. She will challenge the existence of heteronormativity as a standard in our culture. She is an activist for transgender rights and proceeds to work with the LGBTQIA+ community to topple normativity, whitewashing, and the supervision of people who are “queerly awesome.”

 

One would say that it is impossible to tie down art to a necessary global conversation, but I cannot take that mentality away or those thoughts and connections away from my work. The process is one that is simple: Tramika putting a conversation into image.

Uncanny M. Mask, Tramika LaBranche, Silkscreen

AE: Tramika, we here at Altered Esthetics are so excited to have you participate in I AM! What inspired you about the theme, finding identity through self-portrait? How do you feel your work reflects that idea?

Tramika: Self portraiture is a theme that holds the interest of many. Defining your entire being as a person is difficult, without the use of verbal expression, and instead communicating visually. Language is something many see as a barrier, and with a visual outlet I feel as though it is easier for many to understand what I am conveying with my work. My work has much to do with sexuality, gender and concerns regarding how people of color (PoC) are portrayed in the art world and the world overall. Portrayal is a theme that I do not think we all have control over because we cannot force others’ viewpoints of us. My work, mainly deals with portrayal of PoC from the LGBTQIA+ community who have been murdered for being different, my homeland Haiti and our struggles.

Art speaks, doesn’t it? Self-portraiture is one of my favorite genres in contemporary art. Whether a self-portrait is represented within a painting, photograph or video art, the work can evoke intimacy in ways similar to a literary poem. I often feel like I am listening to a self-portrait when I am looking at one. What is the self-portrait to you? What strikes you most about self-portraiture?

I agree art does speak, and although many may not understand or they might misconstrue the message that is being seen, it does have volume that ties it into our emotions. My self-portrait is my attempt to breach the race wall, and I am inviting the viewer to participate in a conversation about race and intersectionality. I began with my image, a blank canvas with no emotions and a stare that does not speak power. I turned that into the Uncanny M. Mask, which presents the viewer with the possibility for various responses.  A viewer might ask, “If I see this image as being a primate/monkey, then am I racist?” “Am I viewing her as a black person in light of her race and not her  intellect or what she may bring into the world?”  Viewers may also fear that if they judge this image as a primate/monkey, then the artist is judging  them as  ignorant, closed-minded  people. 

What messages or ideals do you portray in your art?

I cannot say directly what my message is. I aim to start a conversation on race and not let fear stop it. The message is for conversation on race not just to look at the history of what has been done and what has happened to  PoC, but to ask what we do next and how we begin to change how we think about race.

How did you start making art? Why do you make art?

I can say “Oh I’ve been making art since I was younger,” but that would be inaccurate because there is a large difference between art and Art. Before I start anything, I read, a lot, and write, jotting down notes and ideas. I do this because I very much believe what Kandinsky says in Concerning the Spiritual and Art,  he says: “And so the arts are encroaching one upon another, and from proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental.” So I read, from rereading Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Discipline & Punish, and The Use of Pleasure to bell hooks’s, Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism and Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous, to many others. I also look at other artists, not only those in the medium or theme I explore, such as race, sexuality and gender and silkscreening, but those in graphic design, painting, sculpture, and ceramics, those who make art not for art's sake but art that broaches wider conversations to be had.

What is your process and, how do you know when your work is finished?

I want to start by stating that I personally feel that my work is not and never will be finished, because I am never satisfied with how I have made any of my works. My work is not complete until it inspires conversation, conversation on race, gender, sexuality, normalcy. One would say that it is impossible to tie down art to a necessary global conversation, but I cannot take that mentality away or those thoughts and connections away from my work. The process is one that is simple: Tramika putting a conversation into image. As hard as that may be with multiple voices debating their own opinions, I still try to convey that importance of the necessity of dialogue into the works I create.

Is there an artwork of yours you are most proud of? Why? 

This is a hard question. I have an obsessive personality, and once I start a project I have to remind myself to eat or sleep. I can say the work I am proudest of now is Unidentified Woman. Unidentified Woman is a series of transgender women who have been horrifically murdered, and then through the media, they have been misgendered or named wrongly. As a result, many people forget or ignore the deaths that should be investigated. The people responsible should be held accountable to the full extent of the law, but in many cases are not. So the series are silkscreens that are film based prints of the women murdered with no face, and their genitalia in the form of the sex they were before they made the life decision of being gendered as they identified. The series is still in process, with me experimenting with colors and embossing. But so far this is my proudest work, despite it being unfinished.

Thank you for the interview, Tramika. What are your plans for future projects? 

My future projects so far are “finishing” Unidentified Woman and presenting at the conference Sexuality and Gender in the Digital Age: No Limits. As well as furthering my research and producing more works on sexuality and gender, I want to understand better why heteronormativity is a norm in our society, and is not questioned or looked into as rigorously as it should be. As well as being an activist for transgender rights, I will continue to work with the LGBTQIA+ community in challenging normativity, whitewashing, and the overall suppression of individuals who are queerly awesome.

All photos courtesty of the artist.

More on the artist:

Tramika LaBranche, was born in Nassau Bahamas, but raised in Saint Louis du Nord, Haiti with 7 brothers and sisters. With a large family, everyone was artistically fueled and art was always a big part of her family. "My mother only moved five of us to Florida and later on two of us and my mother to Brooklyn, New York. In which I then moved to Torrance, California by myself, thinking that the art school was something I could further my information and knowledge of art. I later on saw my flaws of this plan and moved back to New York to receieve a degree in Anatomy. Moving to Vermillion, South Dakota for the BFA with an emphasis in Graphic Design, I want to see a lot of the communities the United States has."

"I am not a citizen of this country and would like to see as much of it as I can since in the future I do not wish to continue living in the U.S. I feel this is a great opportunity to view life, and travel and learn as much as I can and able to. I’ve never lived in a small town like Vermillion. Although I am a Graphic Design emphasis student i am very much interested in Silkscreening and Painting. These mediums give me a voice in the art world in which I feel Graphic Design mutes."

Come to the opening of I AM on Friday, March 4 from 5-7pm. Tell us if you can make it: 

facebook.com/events/920237571364207/

I AM is organized as part of the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover. From January to March 2016 the Takeover will include over thirty arts and cultural organizations in Minneapolis/St. Paul and surrounding cities. From small non-profit art centers to major cultural institutions in the region, these partners will be highlighting gender and racial inequalities, taking on stereotypes and hypocrisies, and promoting artistic expression by the often overlooked and underrepresented. Join the collective roar for change at ggtakeover.com.