On Black Interiority + Printmaking | Session 1: Deborah Grayson

April 2023

Cohort II Member, Deborah Grayson sits with Founder, Tanekeya Word to talk about leisure, books and art.

Tanekeya Word (TW): Historically, in the United States of America, Black women's greatness is often measured by extensive labor and/or their capacity to nurture groups of people. So, I wanted to begin this sisterhood dialogue with an inquiry to a wonderful Black woman who centers quietness as an expressive mode of Black life:

What are you most looking forward to doing for yourself this year? What does it look like and feel like for you to be at leisure?

Deborah Grayson (DG): Whew! Now that is a serious and important question! Like most other people I got knocked off my stride during the pandemic. I feel like it has only been during the last 5 months or so that I am finding my way back. I am finally getting back to some of the rituals of self care that ground me: hiking in nature, turning the television off and reading, reading, READING (I have missed my books!), growing herbs and flowers in my garden or tending to my growing plant family, and MOST importantly, daydreaming. In terms of what it looks like for me to be at leisure?Talking and laughing with my family -- especially my beautiful, smart and creative niece. Safely traveling to visit my friends and wandering in and out of bookstores, art galleries, and vintage furniture shops. Browsing is fun and super relaxing to me.

TW: We nerd out together: chat about a multitude of things and share book recommendations.

Let's talk about books: show us a glimpse of one of your book cases, pull two books that you will always go back to and tell us why. As well, if you were to embody a protagonist from a book who would you be and why, which protagonist or antagonist is your fictional archenemy and why?

DG: I am super proud of my bookshelves. I just finished building (with help) and painting (with no help) my bookshelves. Now I am playing with how I want to arrange them.

One of three sets of bookshelves in Deborah's home that houses her growing collection.

In terms of two books I will always go back to.....Geeze. That's a really hard question. I can choose only two books? Well, let me answer it this way. If I could only choose two books that are works of fiction it would be Morrison's Sula and Nella Larsen's Passing. Both books describe how to hold on to yourself and how not to become unmoored when standing on shifting sand (although I guess that didn't work out too well for Clare...). If I had to choose among works of non-fiction in this particular moment (as opposed to reflecting on earlier works), it would probably be work by Kevin Quashie, Christina Sharpe or Tina Campt.

If I were to embody a protagonist from a book it would be Mama Day from Gloria Naylor's Mama Day, Pilate from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, or Gabrielle Segovia from Irete Lazo's The Accidental Santera. If I could press the edges of your question a bit -- I would love to be one of Alison Saar's wood women sculptures too. I am drawn to characters and figures that hold deep wisdom and knowledge, who are deeply rooted in family and culture, and who maintain strong ties to our ancestors. Wait, I have to throw in a few more books. Wesley Brown's Darktown Strutters, Toni Cade Bambara's Salt Eaters and The Black Woman, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son.

Finally, while I feel like archenemy is a strong word for me I do have to say that there were multiple times when I wanted to shake the living daylights out of Lilith in Marlon James' The Book of Night Women. That book is beautiful and grotesque, moving and infuriating. I read it when it first came out and it still messes with me.

You've really started something now! Here are a few books that are in my to read pile right now:

I am currently reading Chandra Prescod-Weinstein's The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime and Dreams Deferred.

Also in my pile is An Autobiography of Skin by Lakeisha Carr; A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soul to Stars ed By Erin Sharkey and I have a stack of cookbooks about vegan African, Indian and Caribbean cooking that I am cooking my way through.

TW: Past. Present. Future.

Who or what have you gleaned from, what have you conjured as an effect of gleaning, what legacy will you pass on?

DG: Outside of my family I would say teachers and librarians have poured into me in ways that have had a profound impact on me. When I was in the 1st through 5th grade it would be Mrs. Floyd who was the librarian at LaSalle Elementary school in Washington, DC. She cheered on my strong love of books and always encouraged me. That encouragement and support sustained me when we moved to Montgomery County, MD. As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park it was Dr. Gladys-Marie Fry and Dr. David Driskell who contributed to shaping my scholarly interests related to Black visual culture and thought. Maryland was popping back in the day. In terms of my legacy, I hope to pour into others and share in ways that have been shared with me. I hope that I am paying it forward through multigenerational connections with artists and thinkers. I admit that I don't stop to think about legacy much because I am so focused on doing and being. Mainly I just try to be kind, to contribute, and to have something substantive to say about the times we are living in through my work.

TW: How are your lived experiences, observations of contemporary culture and/or the archives embedded in your artwork?

DG: All of this is at the core of my artwork. My lived experiences shape but do not limit how I see, feel, and experience the world. I have an intense curiosity about things so there's also that. For me to be an artist means that I have to be able to look and see with all of my senses. I believe that artists see with our hands and hear with our eyes. I also believe that we are conduits through which stories flow. Over the last two years I have been spending a lot of time in historical archives looking at images and at collections of vernacular photos that I have collected or that others have gifted me. Studying photos and photography so closely allows me to sit with and re-imagine the lives of the people in the photos. These images have me thinking about a point Bridget R. Cooks makes in her essay "The Black Index" regarding "transform[ing] the reliance on photography as the source for visual objectivity and understanding." I tend to think about printmaking as a means to document our life-stories. I use the archive -- the photos within the archive-- to tie together some of the threads of the stories in my work. As Amy Sherald has told us, "...the picture is just the beginning of the story. A moment frozen in time, waiting to be mined."

TW: You are taking a voyage and you can bring any person or group of people with you, however you must choose only five of your favorite tangible objects--what's coming along and why?

Hmm. Good question. I would bring my hiking pack which has my boots, protein bars, water, collapsible walking sticks etc; my kindle which would be preloaded with stacks of books, a sketchbook and pencil, and my case of earrings because it is the one accessory I CANNOT live without! I love a nice pair of earrings to set things off.

A recently filled sketchbook, now it's on to the next one.

TW: Dr., I hope these short inquiries were fun and provided a way of seeing you overall--as a being and as an artist.

DG: Thank you so much for including me in this way. This exchange was fun. I am proud to be a member of Black Women of Print.

Key Block
Let’s see what happens when every featured Black woman printmaker fills out the exact same form.
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