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If you were a shape, what shape would you be? This week we meet with Tschabalala Self, whose work explores ideas surrounding the black female body, and her assignment asks you to consider your own body as a symbol too. Here are your instructions:

1. Make a line drawing of a shape that represents you
2. Fill this object with a color or pattern
3. Share it using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (Your work may be in a future video)

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Sarah: Today we're meeting up with Tschabalala Self, who's originally from New York and now lives here in New Haven, Connecticut. Her work combines drawn, painted, and printed elements with sewing and binding techniques to explore the iconographic significance of the black female body in contemporary culture. She offers us a (?) of subjects, who are aware and yet seemingly unmoved by the fact that we are looking at them. Through these depictions, we begin to consider the attitudes and fantasies that have surrounded the black female body in history and in the present. Her work masterfully manipulates, amplifies, and distorts these ideas, while also rendering multi-dimensional subjects that have agency and power. Tschabalala is gonna talk with us today about her work and also give us an assignment that asks us to consider our own bodies as symbols.

Tschabalala: I'm Tschabalala Self, and this is your art assignment.

intro music

Tschabalala: The images all start from a drawing, and from the drawing I try to build a body or build the features of the subject I'm creating. So I'll usually have, like, a simple line drawing of how I want my characters to look, and from there I build the faces through sewing and grabbing(?) of various materials. And all the materials are materials I collected or have accumulated in my studio, so fabric, old paintings, paper, debris from my family home, old clothing...Just kind of all different objects that come into my life that have the ability to go through the sewing machine can end up in one of the characters and one of the figures. I think they are really, sincerely built bit by bit- little objects, little parts, that kind of make a whole. Well, it's more basing things on my imagination or, I guess, basing my reference point as how I imagine something might feel rather than how it actually looks. So I'm drawing something, I guess, I put priority on objects I think might be noticed first or objects that have a certain kind of psychological or physical weight to them. So that kind of determines a scale of things- how abstracted something is, or how realistically drawn it is, how recognizable it is and how it's rendered, or how strange it is, how personal or how generic it is, is it an object or an icon? A lot of the portraits are made from basically accumulating different shapes and building a person through shapes. That's kind of how I see people.

Big Red is one of my cut out sculptures. So those are made with sheets of wood that I cut out with a jigsaw. Those are just extenuations(?) of my shapes. The first group of those that I made, I made them to flank a group of paintings I created. And the idea was to kind of give weight(?) to the work. This idea that you have this painting on the wall, but I wanted to (?) the painting to be in the space with the viewer, to interact with the viewer in a way that, you know, kind of corrupted this implied power dynamic of someone standing in this space looking at an object. So I wanted the idea that maybe the object's in your space, or maybe this object is animated.

If you were a shape, what shape would you be? Make a line drawing of a shape you think represents yourself. Try to avoid known shapes. Fill this object with a color or pattern or some combination thereof.

John: So Sarah, I love this assignment because in contemporary life we are constantly being asked to come up with avatars of ourselves, some kind of image that will represent us, but this is asking us to do it in a very different and interesting way.

Sarah: That's right because as so much of what we see online is people obviously drawing from a picture they already have of themselves, or something that they like, or a symbol of an existing movement, but this asks you to start from scratch and to think about how you might represent yourself without any of those fallbacks. And to think about what is the shape, what is the icon that is truly you?

John: This is a hard one for me though because it's really difficult to think so abstractly about myself, you know?

Sarah: Yeah, I think this is one where you have to just sit down and start sketching or sit down at your computer and start playing around. You don't necessarily have to have an idea from the start. I think you can sort of build it just like Tschabalala builds her figures.

John: But Sarah is going to help give you some ideas, hopefully, in her history of the silhouette.