“I’ve been working with my family archives because I just want to preserve what we already have. I feel when you bring family images back…, it’s almost like you’re bringing back their soul. I don’t know it’s like a type of ritual cause they’ve been hidden for so long and once we acknowledge them, they’re resurrected.”
– Irene Antonia Diane Reece
Unfiltered San Antonio and Carina Hiscock have come together to present Reclaiming Representation, a creative collaboration that shares the perspectives and experiences of artists who challenge the status quo. Together, our collaboration celebrates new opportunities for historically underrepresented artists to claim their Representation and give examples of how artists are paving the way to create social change.
In our second episode, Irene Antonia Diane Reece shares her experience navigating academia as a bi-racial student. Her work exists to make BIPOC communities feel uplifted and liberated. Listen to the full episode on Reclaiming Representation.
Recently awarded with an artist-in-residence at Black Rock Senegal, Irene Antonia Diane Reece was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and considers herself a contemporary artist and visual activist. She explains that “the work that I make is primarily impactful for the communities that I represent which is Black and Brown. I am biracial and that is very much important as my identity as an artist in my work. I am half Black and half Mexican.” Reece goes on to tell us how representing those communities is important because she doesn’t feel as though there is much representation regarding these communities in the art world.
On being an artist …
She shares, “I’ve always been in the Arts. My father is an art critic and art writer and he’s worked in the educational sector in museums.” She was planning on attending the University of Houston for vocal performance but two art classes she took during Community College changed her mind and she switched her major to photography. “It went from I love taking pictures and developing them to I like archival work and I love making sculptural images,” shared Reece.
“The work I do is trying to provoke a feeling that I’m feeling. And it might not always be that way because art is subjective. Everyone is going to have their own feelings towards my work. I’ve had people get very +angry when they look at my work. I’ve had people get really hopeful. Some people get sad. But it’s all relating to family history, community, mental health, racial identity, culture, rituals.”
On navigating higher education …
Reece, who graduated with an MFA in Photography and Image-making in May of 2020, dives deeper into her experience navigating academia as a bi-racial student. During her graduate studies, she worked on a body of work called “Homegoings.” Her work celebrates Southern Black churches using positive imagery and forms of Black Theology Liberation similar to how Martin Luther King would use Christianity as a tool for activism. She further explained that she recently “got a hold of a family member’s family archives like from the late 18000s the early 1900s. We can’t even identify half of the people in the images. But I know I need to preserve them and make art out of them.”
Looking for a change of scenery and wanting to create her own network, Reece attended the Paris College of Art for her graduate studies. Reece explained that moving to Paris was a completely different culture and a different mindset from what she was used to. “I’m used to Southern Hospitality,” she went on to say. On top of grappling with the romanticized version of Paris and the reality of her financial limitations, she dealt with a lot of issues of white supremacy regarding her work. Despite her difficult time in Paris, she found supportive connections due to the city’s heavy African art presence. Reece pointed out the specific support from a progressive professor and while it was an experience, “I learned from it and now I’m back and ready to take over in the States.”
Like many artists during this pandemic, Reece has had a few exhibitions canceled including one at Centro de Artes. And while moving to virtual exhibitions has worked for some, Reece says, “it’s just not the same.” The majority of her work is tactile, so viewers have to look at it up close and be intimate with the image. But of course, that’s not stopping her. Earlier this month, Black Rock Senegal announced Irene Antoine Diane Reece as one of the 2021 Black Rock Senegal Artists-in-Residence. Congratulations, Irene! Don’t miss out on her current group exhibition, “An Active and Urgent Telling,” supported by the Schaefer Art Gallery at Gustavus Adolphus College. Curated by Strange Fire Collective, this exhibition centers six contemporary artists for whom questions of identity deeply affect their relationship to representation; each featured artist uses photography to engage themes of in/visibility, living within or against social norms, and the power of speaking one’s truth.
Listen to the full episode on Reclaiming Representation.
Follow Irene on Instagram: @reanie_beanie