Stephon Senegal in Residence at Paper Machine
Stephon Senegal works primarily in assemblage. His art practice examines martial devices of both colonization and insurgency. The tenets of Creolization and his embracing of its subversive nature seem to underpin his compositions. Whether on canvas or with steel he constructs visual odes to syncretization through reconfigurations of human, animal and mechanical parts. His upbringing in Louisiana provides a trove of experiential drivers for his work. A graduate of Howard University, Senegal also holds a Master of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. As part of his practice, Stephon creates site-specific installations and performances in underprivileged communities. Some of his recent installations include the Liberty City public housing complex in Miami Florida, Marcy Houses and Brownsville in Brooklyn New York. Senegal presently lives and works in New York City.
Senegal’s work while in residence at Paper Machine is an exploration of language as the lynchpin of culture. He states, “This Paper Machine project is centered around language as a launchpad of activism. The African ethos has survived hidden in the folds of dialect and religion. In the dark we practiced our stories, but no more. Language is foundational to Black identity. In conjunction with Senegalese linguistic specialists from Boston University, I completed a curriculum centered around a short story written in the main language of what was once Senegambia. As part of the artwork I will develop a booklet detailing a portion of the short story. The booklet will serve as a tool to teach the language to a small group from the local community and thereafter a springboard for a large-scale drawing composed around a key scene from the tale. Part performance and part object, this artwork positions indigenous African language as a critical component to Black Americana’s cultural inventory.”
Senegal’s work explores the western mechanisms that have assured a difficult path for people of color. He explains, “The associated trauma has impacted my perspective and decision to focus my public art in marginalized neighborhoods. These communities inform my work. Staying connected is this way is an important part of my process. Creolization, at least the American version, was born in southern Louisiana as was I. The threat of melanism created fertile ground for the Creole as both arbitrator and Trojan horse. Hidden and unassuming, Creolization has created a path of infiltration into westernization. This form of subversion advises how I visualize Africaness in its contemporary manifestation.
Black Americana has no discernable ownership of the fantastical nor its own classification. Erasure of the African heroic is a lingering outcome of chattel slavery. Coveted and yet unattainable, the heritage of the African has been assaulted through cartography, prose, scripture and any exportable invention.
The Creole mythos broadly describes religious folklore from Black and Brown syncretization of African pantheons, Catholicism and Native American ritual. Participating in the characterization and reinsertion of an African and Creole heroic dogma has become a centerpiece in my practice. Unlocking those visualizations are a key guide for my constructions. The Malian blacksmith and Nihon Manga serve as reference for animal and human figuration in my work. In the Creole tradition, the objects I create are informed by an amalgamated viewpoint in search of a creolized heroic standard.”