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Moving on Up
Tiger Balm, Kearra Amaya Gopee's senior thesis installation, uses archival photos and manipulated video to explore questions of identity, nationality and immigration. Photo courtesy: Kearra Amaya Gopee
Moving on up
Former T&T Guardian photographer Kearra Amaya Gopee left here four years ago as a teenager to study advertising and communications at St John's University in Queens, New York. She transferred as a sophomore to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU) to study photography and imaging. Since then, she's won awards for her work, including a Laundromat Project Create Change fellowship and an Artists' Co-operative and Residency Exhibitions (ACRE) Residency in Wisconsin. The Sunday Arts Section interviewed her about her experiences.
Congrats on your graduation! How would you sum up the last four years?
Thank you! The last few years have been the hardest of my life but also the most rewarding. New York has provided me with infinite ways of conceptualising the self and my previous notions of family. I love the speed here but I did miss the quiet of home often. After spending countless hours on the phone with the financial aid offices at NYU, having to move several times due to unsatisfactory/discriminatory housing issues and working 80-hour weeks while dealing with several health issues (depression, anxiety, polycystic ovarian syndrome, chronic pain), it is hard for me to even let it sink in that this part of my life is finally over.
There was a lot of doubt and fear to deal with but my mother, Camilla, and my chosen family both in Trinidad and New York really took me through and I am eternally grateful to them.
You left T&T a photographer. Would you say you’re coming back an artist?
I’d say that those two things are far from mutually exclusive but my time here has definitely expanded the number of possible mediums that I can use to illustrate a concept or idea. I’ve always enjoyed looking at conceptual work from other artists but have always shied away from creating such work myself as I couldn’t understand the function a work could have beyond aesthetics. During my time in New York, I was challenged to push the limits of my own documentary photography work as I became more aware of the nuances of exploitation that inevitably accompany images of that nature.
That said, I am trying to develop a style of making that allows for a more collaborative process between myself and those implicated in my work, a blend of both realities and possibility, something that does more than present a current state by way of posing questions for the viewer through a certain level of interactivity/relativity.
I guess this is a really long-winded way of saying that I still consider myself a photographer but also an artist who employs video, text, 3D printing, archival images, found objects—whatever I think is necessary to state my point. Honestly, just a Jack of all trades, master of some.
You were one of only a few undergraduate presenters at the Caribbean Studies Association Annual Conference in Haiti last year. How have your academic pursuits changed your work, if they have at all?
I am forever grateful to academia for giving me a language with which I can express myself. For a long time, I’ve had instinctual leanings towards the interrogation of certain things that I would see around me in Trinidad but it wasn’t until right before I left that I started poking around Caribbean academic writing from the past century. Doing so gave me the ability to name what I had already felt/had questions about and affirmed my suspicions/curiosities.
My academic and research pursuits are inseparable from my artistic practice, as they aid in contextualising the work I produce, as well as assuring that none of the topics I engage with are misrepresented in anyway. Sometimes I get so caught up in the research that I forget to make the work. I felt very silly all through secondary school because I couldn’t process information the way my peers did and it took me a long time to forgive myself for feeling that way. Luckily, I met lovely people who were willing to listen to my jumbled thoughts and help me translate this into my writing/work.
Congratulations, too, on being awarded an ACRE Residency! You must be chuffed. What do you plan on making? And would you be showing at the ACRE Gallery afterwards?
This is my first residency! I am quite excited to attend and currently, I am in the process of raising money to afford my tuition and flight to Wisconsin. While there, I am planning to expand on a project that I started while studying in Cuba last year: an eight-bit video game on the life and times of revolutionary Assata Shakur who has been in political asylum in Cuba ever since her escape from American imprisonment in 1979. I envision this work as something that is both tongue-in-cheek and a teaching tool on Black Liberation movements and Caribbean responses to racist American policies. I still have a lot of research to do so I’m excited to dive into it. Whether or not I show at the gallery depends on the residency’s organisers but my fingers are crossed!
What’s next for you?
Looking for a stable job in archiving/photographic reproduction and possibly a move back to Trinidad for a brief period of time. In my ideal life, I’d have my feet in both places but we’ll see how it goes. I am terrified but also quite hopeful.
• To help fund Kearra Amaya Gopee's travel to her ACRE Residency, go to: www.youcaring.com/kearraamayagopee-830983
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