Can you talk about the role of Afrofuturism in your work?
I think when I started making I wasn't thinking about that at all, but I then realized how much my works fit into that. I’m really into science fiction in general — I just love the expansiveness of it, and imagining another world or future reality where I and we as Black people can exist, where I get to decide what is happening there. From what we look like to what kind of beings we are, I get to create this whole that’s safe and right for me.
That actually leads into my next question pretty well: you framed this just now in terms of a place where you feel safe, but in your artist statement on your site you talk about the figures in your Future Ancestors series as “gatekeepers of your rage and projections of power and freedom.” Which is particularly interesting to me because it seems like you're thinking of them in a twofold way: as both a defense against white supremacy and misogyny in our world and also as for a new world of power and freedom.
When I started it, they were a response to hearing white people in class talk about the color black and things that were just generally Black, and how much they were like, “Ew,” and [making] obviously very direct statements about Blackness and Black aesthetic. And so I was like, Okay, well, I’m gonna make these beings who are what you're talking about, but just tenfold. Like, imagine if you're talking about hair and then all of a sudden our hair just starts covering our face: then how do you feel? Are you freaked out?
And I want these to feel precious. The material feels precious and glamorous and rich and luxurious. A long time ago, I was sort of disappointed, like, Oh, these aren’t as aggressive as I want. But that’s not really how I roll. It's more like witch stuff — they’re not going to be fighting, it’s spells. That's more where I'm coming from. And they're, I would say, “femme,” but I wouldn’t say “feminine.” I'm not thinking of them as women necessarily, even if their bodies look a certain way. It's more that I want them to be very beautiful.
But I think about that a lot: Is this reactive, or is this its own thing where it’s not responding to whiteness or white supremacy? Like, these are beings who exist on their own with the absence of whiteness. Does that make sense?
That makes total sense. Defining the work in opposition to something reduces it in some way.
Right, right, right. It started as that, but I want it to be its own thing. So if I read something or hear something or see something that is triggering, then I put that into the work, where they hold that and, within the narrative I'm creating, become these gods. I want to actually create more of a narrative and a mythology, and, in the future, write an actual story around them.
Can you say more about that narrative?
When I first started out I wasn't really thinking about that. But we live in a white supremacist society — I hope to god that changes, and so it was like, in the future, these are the beings we become.
But it feels very old — ancient, sort of — because of the reference to hair and the tradition within Black people across the diaspora. So there's this back and forth: these are the future, but this aesthetic is something that's very old. They're constantly shifting across time. This previous piece that I made, that I now call Listen, and Behold, is sort of the beginning. She’s the queen mother coming back to tell us what could happen. Thinking about explaining how this came to be, and the different worlds that have grown out of that, is what the narrative is based around.
You also mentioned that you think of the figures in your work as femme but not feminine. How do you think of the difference between those two?
Yeah. I mean, I do say that, but I don't care so much unless someone asks me. Like, I identify as femme and I guess I identify as a woman, but in my work I'm not thinking, Oh, because this being has this, that means this being’s a woman. Their body — that doesn't matter. I want to talk about Black people of all genders. The gender isn't specified. I don't think because you have a certain body you’re a certain way or you act a certain way, or whatever. So I guess it’s my subtle way of expressing that.
Can you talk about the importance of scale to the work? When I was doing the prep for this interview, I was looking at the pieces on your site and didn’t realize how big they were until I walked into your studio.
I think it just calls for that. This is the fifth or sixth one I’ve made at this scale, but I want, like, 30. I want you to walk in the room and feel humbled by a huge rotunda of them all. And the way that they are shown, the mood — they want you to be looking at them. It puts you in this place of worship. You have to look up.
Can you talk a little bit more about the specific pieces you’ve been working on here in the studio, then?
Oh, yeah. Right now the working title is Black in Blue, Me Onto You. I did the blue ground before I got here, and I knew that I wanted it to have to do with the ocean. I have another piece, it's called From the Ocean Above, and it's thinking about the sky and the ocean as where ancestors exist. Obviously we think about heaven or the sky as a place we look up to and think of our ancestors being there — but also the ocean, especially for descendants of enslaved Africans. I was just reading about it recently: people would hold each other and then jump into the ocean to free themselves from slavery on the way to the Americas. So the figures are holding each other, and I'm imagining this underwater world where now these beings, these future ancestors, are existing in this ocean graveyard, if you will.
And also, I imagine this world as very rich, so I use a lot of gold foil. I picture that, if we were here, there would just be minerals and precious metals floating because it's so abundant. Everyone's wealthy in every possible way.
Alisa Sikelianos-Carter is a mixed media visual artist working in upstate New York. Sikelianos-Carter has been awarded residencies at The Millay Colony for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Wassaic Project, Yaddo and will begin a year long fellowship at NXTHVN in New Haven, CT starting January 2020. . Her recent exhibitions include group shows at The Tang Teaching Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY and The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY. She has exhibited Nationally at Collar Works, Troy, NY; Wa Na Wari Gallery, Seattle; Paradice Palase, Brooklyn; Ori Gallery, Portland, OR; Iridian Gallery, Richmond, VA; Archer Gallery, Clark College, Vancouver, WA and White Gallery, Portland State University, Portland, OR. She earned her BA and MA from SUNY Albany in Painting and Drawing.
Sikelianos-Carter asserts that Black features are a manifestation of a sacred and divine technology that have served as a means of survival, both physically and metaphysically. She envisions a cosmically luminous world that celebrates and pays homage to ancestral majesty, power and aesthetics.
Inspired by traditionally Black hairstyles, Sikelianos-Carter uses web and catalogue sourced images to construct new archetypes. With her opulent, large-scale paintings she is creating a mythology that is centered on Black resistance and utilizes the body as a site of alchemy and divinity.
2019 Summer Residency