Umar Rashid Tells a Compelling Story of Revisionist History

Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers) is battling with the traditional concept of colonialism. Confronting issues like race, power, and greed, he creates imaginative works with a twist, citing Hieronymus Bosch as one of his favorite artists. Inserting himself and people in his life into historical narratives leads you to find modern cultural references bridging the gap between the old world and the new. In his own revision of history, Rashid focuses on this greater idea of humanity as a whole. How has the “prescribed, sanitized history, some of us are all too familiar with” altered our vision of humanity, and at what cost? He relies on “stories that have been collected and passed down by the targets of colonialism” to tell a different, collective account; one shaping future considerations of history and accepted by all of humanity.

 

Courtesy of the artist.
Tell us about yourself, where are you originally from and when did art first enter your life?
I always tell people that I’m a storyteller first and an artist second.  I’m originally from Chicago, IL. But, I have called Los Angeles my home for two decades.  My relationship with art began at a very young age.  My father is a playwright, actor, and a painter and my mother was a theater actress.  My grandfather was a jazz saxophonist.  My brother is a fantastic illustrator and I have been writing and performing all of my life.  I dabble in poetry and music from time to time but I have been most consistent with my life as a fine artist.
Courtesy of the artist.
What artists from history would you say influence you the most?
My all time favorite artist would have to be Hieronymous Bosch (for reasons that may seem obvious when viewing my artworks over the years) but I’m also heavily influenced by the Neo-Classicists, the Romantics, Indigenous art, Naive art, cave paintings, etc. as I’m self taught.
Courtesy of the artist.
From where do you draw inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from the well of history as all things repeat after a time.  However, I distill much of my research from the Age of Sail, and the subsequent colonial period.  Race, class, power, religiosity, gender were thrust upon the world stage during this relatively short period, all at once, and in my opinion served as a bridge from the old world to the new.  I exploit the malleability of this epoch to craft my narrative, with one foot in the written historical record, and one in the realm of imagination. In addition to creating well-rendered, standalone works of art, I ultimately seek to tell a story of humanity. An all inclusive humanity that is generally left out of the prescribed, sanitized history, some of us are all too familiar with.  I challenge this one dimensional history through expanded research into the actual historical narrative thanks in part to the recent availability of alternate historical sources in print, and online via the Gutenberg Project, in addition too a renewed interest in the stories that have been collected and passed down by the targets of colonialism run amok.
Courtesy of the artist.
Has your work always taken on the style is currently embodies?
Despite having worked on this continuing narrative for over 15 years, I manage to keep the story fresh and change up the media periodically (painting, drawing, sculpture, textile, map-making) so that the work has no excuse but to evolve.
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Walk us through a day in the life. What is your process like?
 Although I should, I do not paint everyday.  I spend a considerable time doing historical research whenever I can, while noticing the parallels in the modern day.  I then quantify the data and see if it is compatible with the direction of the narrative.  If everything checks out sensibly, and chronologically, I move forward with another chapter in my re-imagined history.  The rest of my time is spent using the potential energy used in the research phase and switching to the kinetic phase of physical rendering.
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What do you have coming up?
Et voila!  I have some projects fast approaching!  First, I’ll be included in a group exhibition at Half Gallery called ‘Under Glass’ and later in the summer I’ll have some large works in Made In LA (at the Hammer and the Huntington Museum).  Normally I’d feel like I was on top of the world right now but I’ve been in a bit of a funk since the wall went up on the world.  I’m getting along by being able to connect via internet but I’m pretty old school, and hands on. I have to treat myself like a character in my narrative.  My children are also at their wits end and it’s difficult for me to get over to my studio at times.
Courtesy of the artist.
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to provide us with a recommendation or two of artists they are loving, do you have anyone to suggest?
A couple of artists I’d like to recommend:  John DeFeo, Erlin Geffrard, Shagha Ariana, and Rose Bricetti.  Check them out if you can!
Courtesy of the artist.