— Languidly walking my way through the meticulously well manicured and stunningly beautiful gardens at Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center residency in Italy this past summer I imagined what a 17th century aristocrat must have felt, prancing atop the same gravel with silk slippers. And that’s when it hit me. Ill at ease and suddenly clear headed I understood that I was participating in and carrying on a tradition of privilege that, as a man of African descent, was never a beneficiary of. The history of exploited labor, deception and control of common folks — European peasants and colonized dark skinned people from abroad — were hidden deep below in the ground underfoot.
My month long residency was to allow me the luxury of time to make art works unmasking the pervasive catch 22 of mental colonialism so that other colonized minds might question the origin of subtle, self defeating impulses and insecurities. residing in their own heads. I’d been woke, and my work is to wake others so that we may become more resilient to the stress and confusion of living in a post colonial global economy.
And here I was indulging and gorging at the kings table. When I shared this inner conflict with my fellow Rockefeller fellows, one artist remarked, “Are you telling me you didn’t know you’d be staying in a 500 year old villa atop of Lake Como? So why’d you apply?”
I called my friends Meena Nanji and Yong Soon Min, artists I knew who also attended the residency and asked if they had a similar existential crisis and hungrily received their counsel.
By my second week I was in full production mode, cranking out critical works, dancing in the night and thanking the stars I was here. Life is strange. So is inner conflict. I honor both. History’s a bitch.
Todd Gray was born in 1954 in Los Angeles. Gray received an MFA and a BFA from California Institute of the Arts and is currently a professor at California State University, Long Beach. He has shown performance work at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater), Los Angeles (2010); California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2009); the Commons, New York University (2008); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica (2008); New Renaissance Theater, Syracuse, NY (2007); and Academy of Media Arts, Cologne (2004). Gray’s work is in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; University of Connecticut; and University of Parma, Italy. Gray is the recipient of a Los Angeles International Airport public art commission (2007); a California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2005); a Pasadena Art Alliance Grant (2004); and a City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellowship (1997).