Interview conducted by Ogden Museum Education Intern, Alanni Martin.
Alanni: What motivated you to become an artist?
Madison: I was introduced to art pretty early in my life. I’ve been around it since I was a kid. My mom has done photography forever and my dad is in film. I was exposed to art classes at an early age. When I got to middle school, I started to realize [that] I had an eye for photography. [My art] has always come from a place of trying to express my story and the stories of people around me. I really didn’t see myself as an artist. I saw it as something I was passionate about, I loved it and wanted to share [it] with others.
“I come from a city with a lot of different photographers, but women specifically, sometimes aren’t taken as seriously and there are a lot of nuances that come with entering that field and medium.” – Madison Grant
Alanni: Did you face any challenges in your pursuit of becoming an artist?
Madison: Yes. I think with anything that you do, there are going to be challenges. For me, my work is pretty personal, so being comfortable sharing that experience with other people was something that I had to deal with. Also photography in itself, being taken seriously nowadays can be challenging because the industry is definitely flooded with a lot of different people. I come from a city with a lot of different photographers, but women specifically, sometimes aren’t taken as seriously and there are a lot of nuances that come with entering that field and medium. I definitely dealt with external [and] internal battles, but I don’t think the challenges were ever too much where I felt like I couldn’t do it or pushed me away from it. Photography has always been something that I love.
Alanni: Do you think your background (how you were raised, family life, etc.) significantly impacted your work?
Madison: When I first started photography, I was just taking pictures of anything and the people around me. As I got older, I specifically photographed Black people, Black women. I think that [shift] is a product of my environment. I feel like we [Black women] weren’t represented in the media in a way that I like to see. I didn’t see people that looked like myself in a lot of artwork that I saw. So now, pretty much all of my work is centered around people that I would see in my family or my friends. I definitely think [those things] impacted the art I made. Also growing up, politics were really big in my life, understanding them, and the history that comes with it. I definitely think [that] my work has a political aspect as well, which is in my piece at the Museum. So yes, my environment definitely impacted the work that I made.
Alanni: What inspired you to create F**k Colorism?
Madison: At the time of working on this piece, I was working to find out what part of myself I wanted to show through my art. For me, speaking on social issues from my perspective while creating beautiful and vivid imagery was a no brainer. I was super focused on Black women and examining our voice in reproductive rights and colorism within our community. I honestly can’t really say how I landed on focusing solely on the paper bag. The paper bag test has so much history and I feel we see the aftermath of such a discriminatory and divisive practice in our community. Colorism is everywhere, I pulled from my own personal experience and my peers. It’s also something not talked about enough, we know it’s there and it’s something that as a community we must stop doing to each other. As unnecessary as the paper bag test is I felt like it needed to be recognized for its impact and destroyed. So, I decided to burn it in that picture. A lot of people think that it’s edited on, but it’s not. My model and I went out and got a paper bag and we burned it around her face. It was important to put a face to the issue and not just burn the paper bag without a Black woman, who could understand the impacts of colorism. For me, it meant a lot to just burn the bag. The image or burning the bag doesn’t get rid of colorism, but it does draw attention to the situation. It’s definitely been perpetuated through media and social media, specifically the colorism that we’ve seen in the Black community. It’s important to create a dialogue for those stories to be seen and heard.
Alanni: In the creation of F**k Colorism, was it your intention to invoke a certain emotion or simply to comment on the issue?
Madison: With anything that I do I want to leave someone thinking and feeling something. I definitely want to invoke emotion. There’s a lot of emotion that you can take away from a piece like that because it’s not only identifying an issue but also trying to eradicate an issue at the same time. With that people can take what they will based on their own personal experience. For me, when I look at it, it’s kind of a relief. The burning is symbolic of a lot of different ideas. For me personally, it’s kind of the biggest f*** you, that you can give to something, destroying it.
Alanni: What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind?
Madison: Being an artist is not really an idea that I’ve fully leaned into. I just feel like I make art. I don’t know if I view myself as [an artist]. Representation and people’s stories are so important to me. I definitely want to create a space where people feel comfortable to be who they are and share who they are, which is important with anybody [that] I work with. When I’m working on photography, I want who they are to be in the work as much as myself. I think it’s so important in creating a space for Black people, specifically to be seen and heard. That’s what I see for myself, my legacy would be that.
“Representation is important especially in art spaces because in high school, in our community, the youth voices aren’t heard, especially for people of color.” – Madison Grant
Alanni: Do you think that art is important? How would you describe that importance?
Madison: Art is a very interesting thing for me, it’s a big deal. I find a lot of peace in artwork. It can bring out any emotion which I think is a beautiful thing. In a world aspect it’s probably one of the most important things we have. Cause I feel like it tells history and shares stories. When I think of things that are important to me in a global aspect, food and art are up there with each other. Art documents people’s experiences and who they are. I do think that in the sense of art, some of the value and importance has been lost with the capitalistic view that people have on art, just making it monetary rather than trying to create something, express themselves or share a story. Some of those things have been lost in our society through capitalism, which is hard to look at and accept. I definitely think [art] is a beautiful thing and there’s a lot that can be done with it. Representation is important especially in art spaces because in high school, in our community, the youth voices aren’t heard, especially for people of color. It’s important that this is really examined because most of the artists that are big and huge nowadays are not people of color and they’re definitely not Black people. A lot of artwork is taken from those communities. When we look at art, I think it’s important to acknowledge that as well.