Teaching Fellow Diamond Gray Consumes and Creates Political Artwork

Splicing together commercials from the 1960s and contemporary times, Diamond Gray, a current Teaching Fellow in Art, created a video containing subliminal, anti-black messages.  The video was accompanied by a repetitive sound track with underlying jokes. In one clip, people poked fun at a woman with large hair, who later went into a dressing room and returned with straightened hair.

“This is very subtle, and this is why I have these sort of insecurities when I grew up — because I was looking at images that didn’t look like me but also made fun of me… You’d be amazed [that] simple stuff like that is just like, ‘Huh. No wonder I wanted long, silky [hair]. No wonder I didn’t really have an appreciation for my looks, for my own hair.’ Hair can be a simple thing, but for a black woman, it’s very political,” said Gray about the video.

Gray is interested in many different mediums including video and printmaking and is currently involved in consuming and creating very powerful political artwork.

Gray said, “Right now I’m really into… art that has a meaning to it. Specifically, political art has a huge influence and huge impact on me because… it was just more than being the best at drawing. There’s different sorts of movements out there where art can be therapeutic. Once again, art… can push a whole movement forward [and] make very important messages aware to groups of people.”

According to Gray, she is inspired by Lorna Simpson, an African-American artist whose works primarily focuses her photography on the subject of African-American women.

“Lorna Simpson is a huge influence for me. She is an African-American artist, and that’s another thing that’s really important, because when I was younger I didn’t see a lot of African American or artists who were women when I was growing up. Sometimes that can be sort of isolating if you don’t have that kind of representation for yourself. [Her artwork] is about gender, class, race within the United States, and so that’s really important because I can really identify with the works,” said Gray.

As she grew up, Gray continued to pursue art, despite receiving mixed support from her family out of their concern for her future economic stability. However, some family members, specifically her uncle, a dancer, managed to turn the tide in her favour so she could continue creating art.

“From my background — a working-class background — needing money and having money is an issue… [My uncle] always encouraged me, which was really great. He was like, ‘Oh, Diamond, you’re like me! You should do this; you should do that.’ So it was really nice to have like a family member to tell my other family members, especially my mom because she’s just worried that I’m [not] going to be okay,” said Gray.

Another influence on Gray’s life was her high school art teacher, Ms. Jones, whose support and belief in Gray motivated her to persevere and work hard as well as inspired the beginnings of her politically-motivated artwork. Jones encouraged Gray to exhibit her first piece at a local theater.

“She actually had me exhibit my first piece at a gallery. It was called Ritz Theater, and it’s an African-American historical theater, so that meant a lot to me. She was a huge influence, and I think she’s an amazing artist. She makes works that are also politica. She quilts a lot of her material, so she does a lot of craft making as well as drawings and printmaking, and… she was the one who really got me into doing printmaking,” said Gray.