Interview with Melanie Stevens
This conversation took place at KSMoCA during the weekly Student Curatorial Committee lunch-time meeting on Thursday February 28, 2019, in preparation for Melanie Stevens’ solo exhibition in the student curated exhibition space, “KSMoCA’s MLK Jr Gallery.” The student curators present at the conversation include: Ana, Diana, Isaiah, Lewwii, and Rocky. Other people at the conversation: Melanie Stevens, Roz Crews, Amanda Leigh Evans, and Anke Schüttler.
Melanie: Can I just say that y’all are some of the best curators I’ve ever worked with? This is the most fun I’ve ever had. [everyone laughing]
Isaiah: This is a question from me, obvi. Where and when were you born?
Melanie: I was born in 1979 in Miami, Florida.
Isaiah: What day?
Melanie: September 23, 1979.
Lewwii: What’s your favorite hairstyle?
Melanie: For me, or for other people?
Group: For you!
Melanie: Well, I would say that this natural [gestures towards current hairstyle] is my favorite ever. I went natural five years ago after having my hair permed for most of my life, and going natural has been one of the coolest things ever for me.
Lewwii: This is not your hair color?
Melanie: No, this is not a perm, just natural.
Isaiah: Wait, you’re thirty-nine?
Melanie: Yes. Good math! [everyone laughing] Wait, what’s your favorite hairstyle? I like your braids.
Lewwii: Thank you. Mine would be just straight hair with little curls. It’s pretty, and it just makes me feel like a queen I guess.
Ana: Where do you get your inspiration for your art?
Melanie: I get my inspiration from current events, the news, things that happen to me personally in my life, and things that me and my friends talk about.
Diana: What kind of art do you make?
Melanie: Right now, mostly comics and digital art.
Isaiah: Do you have any tattoos?
Melanie: No, no tattoos. One day though!
Ana: Why not?
Melanie: I don’t like pain.
Ana: How do you make your art look so real?
Melanie: I put a lot of time and love and care into it.
Roz: Ana, what do you think about that? [Ana smiling] It makes you smile? [everyone laughing]
Rocky: First before you can answer my question, I need to ask you this question. Are you a Harry Potter fan?
Melanie: I have not read the Harry Potter books. I’ve seen some of the movies, and I really like them. Most of my friends are Harry Potter fans, so most of my friends know which house they would be in.
Rocky: That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you.
Melanie: I took a [Harry Potter sorting hat] test once, and I found out that I would be in Gryffindor.
Rocky: I took a test three times, and I would be in Ravenclaw. Ravenclaw is the clever house. [everyone agrees they need to take the test]
Isaiah: Who is your idol/superhero?
Melanie: Wow, I would say that my idol is…ooh, that’s hard. I want to say Harriet Tubman. [excited gasps from everyone in the room] I think Harriet Tubman is kind of a superhero.
Ana: She was on a reward for $40,000. She got 300 passengers to the North, and she never lost one.
Melanie: And she was a spy.
Isaiah: In the Civil War. She was a nurse, too.
Melanie: She was only five feet tall.
Isaiah: I’m taller than her!
Lewwii: Wait, what? I’m 45 inches.
Melanie: Yeah, you’re about the same height that Harriet Tubman was.
Lewwii: Oh…that’s why! She was kind of tiny.
Melanie: Do you think that’s what made it easier for her to be a spy?
Isaiah: She died at age ninety-two I think.
Lewwii: Who is your favorite artist in the whole wide world? Other than you.
Melanie: My favorite artist…I like David Hammons a lot.
Isaiah: Who is that?
Melanie: David Hammons is a painter, sculptor, installation artist, and he does a lot of work that’s sort of referencing culture and institutional critique. He’s sort of making fun of the world around him. His work is very sad and funny at the same time.
Roz: Do you want to know what one of my favorite David Hammons’ pieces is? [group says yes] One time, he created a bunch of tiny snowballs, and he sold them on the street. He was selling snowballs. What do you think he was trying to say with that project?
Isaiah: This is the world.
Ana: The world is fighting with each other.
Lewwii: If he works on selling snowballs, you know how people work like every Tuesday and all those other schedules, how does he keep his snow from melting?
Isaiah: He probably gathers more, and more, and more.
Amanda: How do the people that buy it keep it from not melting? [everyone looks at a photo on Roz’s iphone of David Hammons selling snowballs]
Lewwii: Can I see his face?
Diana: I’m pretty sure he puts them in the freezer.
Roz: There’s his face! [gestures towards a photo of David Hammons’ face on the phone]
Ana: Can we get back to the questions, please?
Diana: What artwork would you want on your shirt?
Melanie: I would want Kehinde Wiley’s art on my shirt.
Roz: Remember when we saw his art?
Lewwii: YAHHHHH. Oh my gosh, his art is so good.
Ana: If there was a young artist looking up to you, what advice would you give them?
Isaiah: Stay true to yourself!
Melanie: There’s that! Also, I would say everything is connected. All the things you do in your life, it all helps your art. Give yourself time to think about things. It’s not always just about practice, practice, practice—that’s important, too, but you have to live your life and go through things. You have to take time to understand those things because it all goes into your art. That’s important.