As a continuation of a series highlighting Joseph McKeen 2022–23 visiting Fellow Toshi Reagon, artists Daniel Minter and Abigail DeVille convened in front of an eager audience in Kresge auditorium on Wednesday evening to discuss their art and involvement in Parable Path Maine, an organization dedicated to artistic expression and community engagement based on Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.” Audience members engaged with the artists in a discussion panel titled “A Quantum Exchange,” mediated by Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art Anne Goodyear.
Based out of New York City, DeVille is a halley k. harrisburg ’90 and Michael Rosenfeld artist-in-residence at Bowdoin, primarily working in sculpture and creating site-specific installations. Minter, co-founder of the Indigo Arts Alliance and founding director of Maine Freedom Trails, works in Midcoast Maine and has created extensive work featuring the people of Malaga Island. Minter is also known for his acclaimed illustrations in children’s books and designing Kwanzaa stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. Both artists have been awarded numerous accolades for their art and have worked closely with Reagon to produce pieces for her upcoming opera based on Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.”
Parable Path, an organization Minter describes as morphing in response to community interactions, examines themes of race, community, climate, gender and religion—concepts which are heavily featured in Deville and Minter’s works.
Many of the pieces Minter displayed to the crowd centered on the Malaga Island Settlement, an interracial community in Casco Bay which was forced into dissolution in 1912.
“I imagined the essence of the people being embedded in the material in the place of the island,” Minter said. “They’re waiting for us to come back and have a conversation with that presence and with that material.”
Minter also focuses heavily on bridging the gap between past and present by creating multiple works under the same title of “A Distant Holler,” demonstrating how past communities are still speaking.
“We are all trying to reach out to each other,” Minter elaborated about the title. “[‘A Distant Holler’] is to help us understand that we are all out there for each other even though sometimes it seems like we’re alone.”
DeVille also explores this relationship between past and present through astrological concepts that appear in many of her works. She derives inspiration from the interplay between space and time and resulting human interconnectedness.
“If you know part of us is actual Stardust … [when] we are looking at a night sky, [we are] looking at [an] ancient reflection of ourselves or how we’re actually part of these larger systems,” DeVille said. “We’re all of these other elements at once … we’re also reaching backward to try to talk about those things—to conceive of a future that we’re not going to be present in.”
She finds a connection to her family history in her pieces too, weaving paraphernalia belonging to her late grandmother and photos of old relatives into her artwork.
“Trash is the archaeology of today,” DeVille said, speaking about the medium for much of her work.
Objects she finds in the streets of locations she visits or in her grandmother’s apartment are valuable glimpses into the past and the “lost histories” that need uncovering.
Minter shares this appreciation for bringing these past stories to light, referencing how archaeological evidence is equally as important in informing his work.
“I didn’t have to repeat [the Malaga people’s] work…. I’m just working on expression, and I see that as freedom to tell this story in my way, to tell this story in a different way,” Minter said, referencing the stories of Malaga Island. “After 100 years that distant holler is a lot clearer.”
The artists’ discussion exposed the vital links between science and art, past and present, and time and space that will continue to be discussed in future Parable Path events. Toshi Reagon’s “Parable of the Sower” opera will be performed at Merrill Auditorium in Portland tonight, featuring works from Minter and DeVille.