Artist Ramsess on the Circularity of History
From The Quarantine Tapes Podcast with Paul Holdengräber
Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.
Paul Holdengräber is joined by Los Angeles-based artist Ramsess on Episode 118 of The Quarantine Tapes. Ramsess speaks about the early days of his art career in Leimert Park, telling stories about the jazz musicians and other artists that surrounded him. He also discusses how he believes that people are becoming more and more aware of the necessity of knowing history, which has long been a core goal of his artistic practice. Ramsess contributed a piece to the Onassis Foundation’s ENTER project. His Quilted Masks video shows how Ramsess made and distributed beautiful, brightly colored masks to community members. He explains how this project embodies his artistic practice by creating something that is simultaneously a work of art and a protective object to help keep people safe.
From the episode:
Paul Holdengräber: Twenty years ago, John Outerbridge said this about your artistic practice: “What continues to excite me,” John said, “is social consciousness and Ramsess’s awareness that he maintains the history.” What comes to your mind when you hear that? What does it mean to you to maintain the history? And perhaps I can ask you, what history?
Ramsess: Well, I’ve been doing this since I was 25 years old. I discovered that when I got out of high school, I didn’t know anything about history. What I was taught in high school, I learned nothing. I decided that I didn’t want my children and other kids growing up not knowing who certain people were. So I started doing, you know, people that people needed to recognize, like Paul Robeson and James Baldwin, Fannie Lou Hamer. So, that kind of got me started, but it graduated from there. I’ve always been someone who wanted to maintain the history and the truth. It needs to be spoken, or it needs to be seen.
Paul Holdengräber: And when John Outerbridge says “what continues to excite me is social consciousness and his awareness that he maintains a history,” what comes to your mind when you hear John saying this twenty years ago about social consciousness? What do you think he meant then, and what it might mean to you now in these really troubling times?
Ramsess: I think history is a continuous page, and we’re constantly turning that page. What was happening twenty, thirty, forty years ago, it seems like if you don’t know your history, you tend to repeat it again. Some of the things that were happening then are happening now, except I think people are becoming more conscious and aware of how important it is to know the things that are around and their history and the social conditioning. What does it mean to be pulled over constantly by law enforcement when you’ve done nothing? Simply because your skin is a different color or because social conditionings have trained them that this is how you treat these people. It’s sad that that still goes on, but I think it’s coming to a head because people are very conscious of what’s going on now. I think they’re tired of it.
I’ve been on this planet for some sixty-four years and I’ve had my ups and downs and ins and outs with law enforcement, so I know what it’s about. I think back then and now, there are a lot of the same conditionings that existed then that are existing still today, but I think people are becoming more conscious of what’s happening, with the marching, the social outrage, the artwork people are doing. My sons are in it now. They’re in their twenties and thirties, and they’re out there. It’s like, wow. Full circle.
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