Dinner Without An Agenda with Rashida Bumbray

[Deliberate Enigma] Access to the Mother of Invention
Reflections on “Dinner Without an Agenda” Series, September 2015

“Deliberate Enigma” is how scholar Robert Farris Thompson described the artist Jean Michel Basquiat, and the space where he found inspiration. Professor Robert Farris Thompson spoke of the multiple frequencies that artists inhabit navigating their ideas, their world, and their histories. He described Basquiat’s ability to speak from his personal experiences in sophisticated code. Visible and felt experiences that to some read in parts, and to others in complex vigor. It all depended on the perspective of the audience and their need [the mother of invention].

On September 24, 2015, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Stephano Espinoza from the Queens Museum along with Rashida Bumbray, the session’s host of “Dinner Without an Agenda”, who led the discussion among ten artists. The location for this meeting was the Jackson Diner a popular Indian Restaurant just a walk from the Roosevelt Avenue stop, a major subway stop in Jackson Heights, Queens. I am more than familiar with the neighborhood having been raised in the area, Elmhurst / Jackson Heights cusp. It is the best place to find the authentic flux of cultures and is still a formidable training ground for resilience and triumph. During our dinner the neighborhood’s energy seemed to seep through the subway ceilings, the concrete streets, the restaurant walls and then vibrate into our conversation.

Rashida described her motivation behind the session’s question as an opportunity to shed light on what we as artists choose to hide or abstract.
“I’m a feminist and…”,
“Afro-Latinas have to…”,
“As a gay man…”,
“The politics in my art…”
“I had to never say I was a mother…”
“There were no places for different groups to come together and show our work…”
“I didn’t fit a stereotype…”
“Teaching is a political decision…”

We met each other through our personal histories and anecdotes, we highlighted our sacrifices, our limitations, and our unique attributes. The dialogue overlapped in sentiment and sincerity. It was authentic. In that space, and in that mental place, there was an understanding of what was considered sacred. The codes in our work hid parts of us we wanted to save and protect, so that we could continue our work. We choose to “disguise” our references and our content in order to survive and triumph; Deliberate Enigma.

— Mary A. Valverde

Image: Untitled  (notes on record sleeves), 2009, mixed medium, 12×12″