Interview conducted by Ogden Museum Education Intern, Alanni Martin.
Alanni: What motivated you to become an artist?
Derron: In elementary school I had a friend that taught me how to draw Thundercats and from then on I was always interested in art. Getting into high school, studying artists that dealt with social justice or social issues, that definitely inspired my voice in terms of advocating and art. So that’s been my passion, art. Art, I believe, is almost like a by-product of social activism. That’s my motivation [social activism], cause that’s what inspired me to be an artist and to continue to be an artist.
Alanni: Did you face any challenges in your pursuit of becoming an artist?
Derron: The only challenge definitely would have been internal. Always asking, am I good enough? Or am I getting this message across? That internal challenge has always been there. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself to turn those little voices off.
Alanni: What inspired you to create the 1811 Freedom or Death Series?
Derron: I live in St. John Parish and I have been advocating for a lot of change [there]. I was also inspired by history, the Black Lives Matter Movement, a number of things and the killing of George Floyd. As well as I’ve been an educator, seeing the disparities in education in Black and Brown communities. An event happened in St. John Parish. This event was the reenactment of the largest slavery revolt in American history, and I could not allow that to pass me by. Of course it has a historical reference, but at the same time, it is still the same fight; a group of people overcoming barriers. Those pieces [in the exhibition] are just a few from a series. We have African-Americans, saying that I’m here and again, I’m mad. That’s what those pieces are about.
“It is still the same fight; a group of people overcoming barriers.”- Derron Cook
Alanni: Why did you choose photography as the medium for the 1811 Freedom or Death Series?
Derron: I was actually a part of the1811 Slave Revolt Reenactment. I wanted to capture parts of that reenactment. I had a video camera and my digital camera. I was one of the few enslaved reenactors that had a camera. During breaks I decided to take that opportunity to film or photograph the reenactors to help tell the story of the 1811 revolt. Of course [photography] would be the best medium to use, besides trying to paint something out there while we’re moving right? <laugh>
Alanni: Is there a certain audience that you hope to reach with your artwork?
Derron: The audience is broad because I’m an educator trying to educate folks not only about 1811, but also about what it means to be a Black and Brown person in America. I’m looking at the Black and Brown audience, but also outside of that population too. Starting conversations of where we can go in terms of increasing awareness, increasing the quality of life and equity for Black and Brown people.
Alanni: Do you have an expectation of how you would like the viewer to experience or interpret your work?
Derron: If I can go back and talk about what inspired me or who inspired me, I am a fan of Gordon Parks and a fan of Spike Lee in terms of film and photography. I kind of put myself in the mindset of Gordon Parks when he was a photographer for Time Magazine. I’d like viewers to see social issues and allow the viewer to actually step into that person’s life. That’s how I’d like viewers to see it, by stepping into the shoes of that person or subject.
“Everything that I do is about possibilities.” – Derron Cook
Alanni: What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind through your work?
Derron: In terms of legacy, I have two of my own children. As well as being an educator, everything that I do is about possibilities. I allow my work to speak for itself and also to tell the story of the African-American people. I hope to be able to allow my work to inspire others to dream. If it comes to mind, just do it.
SEE DERRON COOK’S WORK IN THE 9TH ANNUAL HBCU ART SHOWCASE, ON VIEW AT OGDEN MUESUM THROUGH OCTOBER 2, 2022.