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Jan 18 - Dec 13 2020

THE FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION IN A MUSEUM SETTING FOR BRANDAN “BMIKE” ODUMS


Newcomb Art Museum’s show NOT Supposed 2-Be Here is the first solo exhibition in a museum setting for New Orleans’ visual artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums. Widely known and celebrated for his post-Katrina art interventions that disrupt public spaces with messages of resilience and resistance, over the past 15 years Odums’ practice has resulted in video art, painting, design, murals, and sculptures that strategically challenge the status quo, using crowdsourced creativity to bring attention to legacies of urban blight, civil rights, family and racial dynamics. Engaging narratives of unsung heroes, fantasy and parody, the New Orleans’ native’s work skates a line at the edge of pedagogy, street art, and pop-culture. NOT Supposed 2-Be Here, which features brand new site-specific installations, as well as past work, is part retrospective and part futurescape. Addressing the question of who or what kind of art belongs in a museum, the show explores four different takes on inclusion and identity drawn across notions of art, race, place, and accessibility. These themes take form as colossal paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and immersive installations – from one room that reckons with the spiritual impact of Katrina to another room that honors local legends from New Orleans Access Television (NOATV) and pays homage to Odums’ early roots in film and television during his time with 2-Cent Entertainment. The thread of questioning identity continues throughout the exhibition as Odums’ wrestles with such concepts as Black power, the definition of Blackness, and the responsibility of the artist to his audience and community. NOT Supposed 2-Be Here is a chance for audiences to envision and engage with the bold histories –and futures– that Odums’ work encapsulates, and explore the alchemy of one of New Orleans’ most prominent, contemporary visual artists. This exhibition catalogue features in-depth interviews with the artist conducted by the director of the museum, the curator of the museum, and Tulane University’s Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Multicultural Affairs. Additional images, videos, and information can be found at newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu.

opposite: Black Joy, 2019, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, artificial flowers, foam cover: John the Baptist, 2020, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas

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above image by Ashley Lorraine; cover image and all interior images (unless otherwise noted) by Jeff Johnston

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ON BEING AN ARTIST A TALK WITH BMIKE ODUMS & MONICA RAMIREZ-MONTAGUT

The following conversation was adapted from a conversation between Brandan “Bmike” Odums and Monica Ramírez-Montagut, director of the Newcomb Art Museum, during the opening reception of NOT Supposed 2 Be Here on January 18, 2020. Monica Ramírez-Montagut (MRM): We are incredibly honored and privileged to have Bmike opening his first museum show here with us in New Orleans. And, I want to acknowledge that we’re riding Bmike’s wave here in the sense that we’re saying that it’s his first “museum” show as he already has his own solo show over at Studio BE. We know that it takes a village to do projects like this; it took a village at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane and it took the village of everyone that works at Studio BE to create this exhibition. So, I wanted to take a little time to acknowledge everyone that’s helped us to be here, where we are today. I hope that this exhibition helps you all get inspired and realize that there is a career in the arts. The arts help us build community, understand each other better, understand our communities, and expand our understanding of the world that we live in, and thus help us move together forward with empathy and compassion – which is exactly what I think your art does, Brandan. I wanted to start by thanking you, Brandan, for having a critical approach to the exhibition, with regards to taking place in an institution. And to acknowledge the crisis that occurs when you’ve had to forge your whole career outside of established institutions and then you get invited into one, and how that creates, possibly, some conflict and maybe that’s why the exhibition’s title is NOT Supposed 2 BE Here. Can you tell us more about that? Brandan “Bmike” Odums (Bmike): The name of the show, NOT Supposed 2 BE Here, it’s a choice for the viewer whether you call it “supposed to be here” or “not supposed to be here.” The not is crossed out. And I just like the idea of requiring some effort from the audience to determine what it is that you’re experiencing. Are you experiencing something that is not supposed to be here or expecting something that is supposed to be here? But it definitely comes from the question about institutions and thinking about myself as 4


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an artist – this is something I’m trying to get used to, the idea of being an artist. I think the last seven years of creating art have been about exploring that. So when I received the invite from Newcomb to create in the space that was the question in my head: Is this where I’m supposed to be? Is this where my art is supposed to be? And so I thought, rather than allow

the things that are in the title. MRM: Well, if you can answer all those questions now, we’re done here, haha. We’ll also write a book! But seriously, I wanted to go to the first thing that you see at the exhibition when you walk in and it’s your grandparents. You were keen on paying homage to your family and your ancestors?

the question to determine the show, the

Bmike: That was a painting from a series of

show should be the question. So in this

paintings that I did for my grandparents –

space, you’re seeing various layers of that

to celebrate them. With my grandfather, I

question. The first layer is me personally

grew up listening to these stories he would

thinking about my own journey as an artist

tell us and I wanted to create paintings

– it kind of has that idea being expressed,

around each of the stories, only the family

me exploring all the influences in my life

was invited to the space. I put up all the art

that inform me being here because I don’t

and there were audio players and you could

have a path that’s traditional. I mean, well,

listen to the stories that he would tell, and

who has a traditional path? But I feel like my

each painting was in relation to a specific

path is a little bit non-traditional. But those

story. And that piece [in the entrance

aspects of my life informed me saying, “I’m

gallery] was my favorite piece from that

supposed to be here” (Gallery 1) And then

show, which is a portrait of the two.

you peel back a little go into the next room (Gallery 2), and it’s about blackness as a

MRM: Also in the entrance gallery, we have

race and thinking about “are we supposed

a cork bulletin board similar to one we find

to be here?” Then you go into the next room

when we go to Studio BE. You pin things on

(Gallery 3), and then there’s a conversation

the board that informs you, that influences

around water and flooding and thinking

you and I think that’s important for the

about this region – is this space (New

young adults in the audience that want to

Orleans) supposed to be here? And then,

be artists to see how you draw from almost

ultimately, there’s a conversation around art

anything for the arts, right? And how it’s

and if art is supposed to be in institutions.

important to have a visual reference there

And that’s what we see on that wall (in

as well.

Gallery 2) this tag that says, “Why are you here?” Because somebody stopped me and was like, “Why do you feel like you need to put your art in the museum?” So those are 7

Bmike: It was important to me that it is corkboard because I went to NOCCA [New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts] and as a student, we had critiques every


Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

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Monday where you pin your artwork on a

same way, like this isn’t a conclusion. This is

board like this. That was the first time I ever

presenting a sketch of sorts. So those are

showed my work in a capacity of ‘investigate

the bullets points of what was important

this’ or ‘look at this from an artistic point of

and then thinking about the board being

view.’ So I thought about the body of work

used as a space to show inspiration, to show

for this exhibition being presented in the

different moments from my story as well as

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time that I was being introduced to him. And thinking about that W. E. B. DuBois t-Shirt next to the Gordon Parks one, I remember a class I had at UNO [the University of New Orleans], an African-American political class called “Souls of Black Folk” where DuBois was an assigned reading. That reading just blew my mind in terms of his discourse on “double consciousness,” you know, thinking about what DuBois was talking about in that book, and how it still is applicable today. And then the other shirt, I was introduced to Dr. different things that inspired me.

Cornel West and painted him on the t-shirt as a gift. I remember this moment when I

MRM: Then you came and you tagged our

gave him the shirt, he received it and he got

museum behind a series of t-shirts – the first

on his knees and started bowing – I was like,

t-shirts that you did and would wear around,

“Dude get up!” Then I was introduced to his

early on...

book, and realized “Oh, wow, this dude is a

Bmike: Yeah, that was early in my career and that’s why I showed them in the museum because, initially, art for me wasn’t a means of being an “artist.” It was just something I knew how to do. So a lot of the questions were, okay since I know

big deal!” So all these shirts, Sidney Poitier and Malcolm X, it’s just interesting to look back and think about these t-shirts, because this was always something that I was excited about, even before I had an explanation for it.

how to do this, how can I make something

MRM: It’s interesting because what I think of

of it that’s beneficial? In college painting on

when I see artists that take their art publicly

shirts was my hustle. I made a promise to

and, say, it’s in a shape of a mural that

myself, “I’m only gonna wear shirts that I

eventually may disappear or not, is ultimately

painted.” I had tons and tons of these shirts,

this need for communication in any way, shape,

but what’s important, and what’s interesting

or form. There’s a need to carve their own space

as I look back on them (outside of the huge

of representation, whether that be on a T-shirt,

size – I was rocking 4X t-shirts!) is that the

or whether that be on a wall, it’s a need of

shirt really reminds me of a lot of the people who I still find inspiration from. College was the point where I was being introduced to these individuals for the first time. I painted that Gordon Parks t-shirt around the same

opposite: The Honorable Sonny and Claire, 2014, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas above: Detail shot of title wall in the entrance gallery.

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Malcolm X 2XL, Sidney Poitier 2XL, Cornel West 2XL, W.E.B. DuBois 4XL, Gordon Parks 4XL, 2005-2006, Handpainted acrylic on cotton shirts


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expression more that is more than, “Oh, I want

MRM: Well, I think it may be daunting – if

to be an artist,” you know? So I wonder if you

you’re a young adult trying to find your way

can tell me where do you sit in those labels or if

and you’re creative and you have these things

that really doesn’t matter?

to say and images to communicate with – it

Bmike: It’s really like what you’re saying – that there is this practical nature to creating, it wasn’t about being an “artist,” it was about this thing that you knew you can do and that you knew other people would

may be daunting to say, “I’m going to be an artist,” right? And so, I think a lot of artists actually don’t start that way. They start with an impulse and then see wherever that takes them.

enjoy. And I was really exploring that idea,

So, back to the exhibition, there’s also spray

that I could create something that other

cans! And there’s also these new 3D printed

people enjoyed and asking, “What are ways

action figurines. Can you tell us a bit about

in which I can engage with that further?”

these?

And at the time, it was painting on t-shirts because everybody was rocking oversized t-shirts. It was like mini-canvases walking around campus.

Bmike: Yeah, in the process of showing this work one of the challenges I wanted to engage with was scale. It’s typical for me to go as large as I can. I’m 6’ 2” and I

Labels (street artist, graffiti artist) are not

enjoy being able to fully create as, like, a

important to me. I know it’s important to

performance where I’m moving around,

think about context, but I feel like New

where I’m climbing ladders and jumping

Orleans has taught me that the title of

from here to there. That’s kind of exciting.

artist isn’t as important as what you do and

But for this show, I wanted to really explore

how you do it; how you contribute to the

playing with and challenging myself to think

fabric of where you are. Because we live

about working small.

in a beautiful space where the greatest among us are accessible, you know what I mean? They’re not on the high mountain where you gotta look far in the distance – “Oh, look, there are all the great artists. There are all the great musicians. There are all the great chefs.” I think they’re woven within the fabric of who we are. I’ve seen that growing up and that informed the way I think of what an artist is supposed to be. So, I’m not a fan of putting on the superhero role of an artist and say, “Oh, this is art.” 13

This [image top right] was a manifestation of a series of works approached as sketches and thinking about sketching. When I’m sketching, the process is a bit random, like exploring. I’m putting the work in, but some of them are reference photos for actual murals and some of them are photos from my travels. And then there’s a self-portrait in the middle that has another process of exploration, using collage paper.


The cans were really just a way for me to hold onto the tool. I started to keep my spray cans because I didn’t like throwing them away when they were empty. And, actually, it was here at Tulane about four or five years ago that I was showing some work with the Black Student Union and I had some cans just to show the atmosphere of my work and I was early and bored so I started doodling on the can. Someone

circulation. And, I’m super-excited that the

walked over and asked, “Yo, can I buy that?”

last row of cans in the show are all done by

So I thought, “Now I know what to do with

young artists.

these empty cans.”

And the process for the figurines was

I started to paint on cans intentionally

pretty interesting. It wasn’t intended to be

thinking about how they’re meant to

“let’s have miniature figures of myself.” It

be discarded, but yet they’re given the

started first with the idea of what you’re

opportunity to have a new life. So that’s what the cans represent. I paint portraits on cans because of this idea that the portrait is done, permanent, and put back in

above: The right wall of the entrance gallery featuring the works I Am Because We Are and assorted sketches. above, right: Collectible Item, 2020, 3d printed powder; Technical support provided by Nicholas Licausi, Digital Fabrication Manager at the Tulane School of Architecture

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going to see in the other room (Gallery 2),

We called it a TV show, and, at first, it was

a destroyed monument, and the process of

just an abstract and we were checking

navigating all the different lanes of getting

out students at UNO, where we were all

there. One of the processes was working

based, and it was kind of like just picking

with the Tulane Architecture Department

a team. I was like, “Oh, you’re very funny.

and while we were brainstorming, Nick said,

Come to this meeting I’m trying to have”

“we can do a 3D model, and then we’ll do

or “You’re in school for acting, come to this

a miniature, and then from the miniature,

meeting I’m having.” And from there we kind

we can figure out how to do a larger one.”

of amalgamated into this collective that

And then once I saw the miniatures, it was

lasted for, well, we’re still connected today.

just like, yeah! It was weird, there’s a lot of

We still do things today, but for the bulk of

thoughts, I have a very obscure Black action

the time, it was 12 years of just constant

figure collection and so as soon as I saw the

creating, what we call “edutainment.” This

miniature I knew wanted to keep it in some

content was educational plus entertaining.

way. And then that led to there being 20 of

And everyone would be like “Yo, y’all got too

them. Like “gizmos,” you know?

much time on your hands. Why y’all walking

MRM: Moving on to the first room… Bmike: So the first room really presents my early development, thinking that the first way of expressing myself as an artist was using a camera and it was through the collective called 2-Cent. This started when I was in college at UNO, and it was a means of trying to be like Gordon Parks and the title of his first memoir embark on the “A Choice of Weapons.” In it, he said his cameras were his choice of weapons against all the things he didn’t like in the world. And this was us as teenagers exploring that with a camera, doing video. It was at a time before video cameras were on phones, this is when cameras were massive instruments. But we were engaging in this thought around, “What does it look like to just speak our two cents? and put it out there?”

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around with those cameras?” Now everybody’s saying you can do content for this or that, so it’s weird how the times have shifted. But back then we walked around with cameras and folks were feeling feels like “y’all not the news,” and “what are y’all doing?” I wanted to pay tribute to that part of my life because it was those years when 2-Cent was everything. My grandfather used to be like “when you gon’ put me on 3-cent?” This was my identity for the longest, being with this collective, being with these individuals and creating. I wanted to pay tribute to how I got started being comfortable enough and confident enough to put myself out there. The chair “KAWS 2-Cent is Here” in this space is an homage to the first show I saw in this museum, the KAWS show, that was the first exhibition here that I intentionally


KAWS 2-Cent is Here, 2020, 2-Cent stuffed animals crafted from felt and poly-fill batting, wood, metal

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came to. And so, thinking about, 1.) KAWS

moment for me because here I was in

and being a fan of his work, and then 2.)

college and you’re at the point where

thinking about 2-Cent creating parodies

you’re trying to learn and unlearn and

(because for the longest time we created

really explore who you are, and there I am

parodies) I thought it’d be interesting to

and it was my job to sit behind this camera

create a parody of one of KAWS pieces

and listen to these shows. And in these

as a 2-Cent piece. KAWS has these chairs

shows, if you’re familiar with the content on

that he has his plush characters on and

NOATV, there’s a specific genre of people

they’re very expensive – these chairs go for

that are on there that I feel are amazing as

$25,000 and up. And I wanted to play on

religious programming, and then there’s

that by doing a 2-Cent version of it and so

community-driven programming, there’s

it’s called, called 2-Cent is Here instead of

activists, these individuals who feel like

KAWS is Here.

they have something to say, so they’re

I used to work at NOATV (New Orleans Access Television) when I graduated from high school. It was a very influential 19

getting on their soapbox to speak. And it was my job to sit down at the camera and basically listen. And what I found was


that it was like a civics class. I was learning

because I felt the audience wasn’t reflective

about things that I wasn’t privy to or wasn’t

of my age at the time. I felt like the people

aware of in the past, and they were directly

on the show didn’t really care how it looked

connecting it to New Orleans, to politics,

they were just concerned about speaking.

asking questions like, “Why did this happen

So I was like “Let’s try to make a show that’s

in this neighborhood? Why was this going

similar to what they’re saying, but the

on?” And as a young person, I’m like, “Yeah,

aesthetics are similar to what we would

why is this going on? Why did this happen?

want.” That’s where we got into parodies –

Why is there the neglect here?” So I really

Dave Chappelle’s show was a big influence

wanted to pay tribute to that today in the

on us, thinking about what he was doing

context of thinking how I got to where I am

with parody and sketch. That’s how the

now because I think that it was working

whole thing developed, this combination

at that TV station that sparked the idea to

of NOATV and this 2-Cent work. I’m

create 2-Cent. Also because I had access to

also paying tribute in this gallery to Paul

the cameras and had access to the editing suites, I was like, “Let’s do our own show”

above, left: Paul Beaulieu and Lloyd Dennis, 2020, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas above, right: Even If Your Voice Shakes, 2019, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas

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Beaulieu and Lloyd Dennis, Minister Antoine

that person.” The thing about monuments

Brown, Mr. Soniat, and just individuals that I

and the way we choose to celebrate

distinctly remember being influenced by.

people, and maybe I’m pessimistic, but as

MRM: I wanted to discuss the prototype figurine of a full scan of your body in the entrance gallery because now from here we’re going into Gallery 2 and the small figurine gives way to this other one, the large one of human scale. That large sculpture of yourself you decided to show toppled down on the floor, in a kind of dramatic gesture. I find it very critical in a very honest way, and I wonder if it relates to you getting invited into this institution and not

an audience, we appreciate transitions. We love to see people rise, but we also love to see them fall. So, I guess, this is me exploring or pre-empting a thought around what ultimately happens once I’m here. Like for how long? When is it going to happen where someone decides, “You know what, you’re not that interesting anymore? Let’s destroy this.” And so, that’s what I was exploring as an artist, kind of just toying with that idea.

being supposed to be here or is it this notion of

MRM: We also had a conversation regarding

destroying the figure of the “artist” and all these

the humanization of historic icons, which I

expectations on “super persons” that are going

think you do. Like, Dr. King, for example, that

to come in and solve all our problems?

sometimes people humanize him and there’s

Bmike: This piece was really a series of questions that I don’t have a lot of answers to. But, yes, the questions, I guess, are in the context of “not supposed to be here.” I’m extremely cautious about the spaces I’m welcomed into, and the moments that I’m in. And the title of that particular piece, the broken statue, is a lyric from Yasiin Bey, Mos Def, that says “Land mines be disguised as welcome signs.” So, it’s really this conversation around what’s required to be here. When you’re in this space as an artist or the creative, where your presence is hinged upon your brand or your name or

some criticism to doing that, but then at the same time, we need to acknowledge that we are all just people and therefore we all have the potential to do great things. And I read your sculpture a little bit more in that sense…. Bmike: That’s cool. MRM: ... and it doesn’t have to be someone so wonderful that needs to be made into a monument, but that anyone of us can actually build community and transform it the way that you are doing. Or are we supposed to be super-humans to be able to move our communities forward?

your identity, what’s required is for that to

Bmike: That’s what I love about art, that

occur. What’s required is that a monument

there are layers. Originally, this sculpture

is built, whether you build it in your own

was supposed to be another person, I was

head, like “I am this person”, or whether

supposed to just cast an individual, and

other people build it for you, like “You are 21


it just would have been an anonymous

So really, this was me exploring the

person –the sculpture would embody

glorification of the narrative. I find that as

the divinization of a person. So that was

an artist who creates portraits, that I have

the original idea, what you’re speaking of,

a role in lionizing and glorifying things and

and then I realized that there’s so much

people, and I’m okay with that, but I also

more conversation to be had if I turned

wanted to explore it as well.

the monument into myself. That’s when I explored the other aspects of that idea. But it’s still connected to the comic book in the back, which speaks to how we tell stories. One of my favorite quotes is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion tells his tale, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” And I use that a lot in terms of teaching and talking about the power of storytelling. But one aspect is that all stories are glorified. When the hunter tells the story, I’m pretty sure they’re gonna add in

So, in Gallery 2 there’s a comic book that says Black People. It’s really just thinking about exaggeration or required exaggeration. Going back to Yasiin Bey, he was a mentor of mine and I learned a lot from him, at some point I was pitching an idea to him. I was shooting a lot of videos and I told him, “I want to do this music video where I put these thrones in the hood, and we just have random people sitting in these thrones.” I thought it was a

details that are glorified. At the same time, I think when the lion tells the tale, there’s going to be aspects that are also glorified.

above: Land Mines Be Disguised as Welcome Signs, 2020, Mixed media installation with plaster and 3d printed plastic; Technical support provided by Nicholas Licausi, Digital Fabrication Manager, and Sam Richards, Shop Director, at the Tulane School of Architecture

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Family Tree, 2020, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas


great idea, and he was like, “That’s whack.”

grateful for those in our past who were

I didn’t pick up on its sense then because

courageous enough to be creative enough

I was like, “Oh, you hate it,” but I reflected

to have children and to hope that their

on that and he meant, “Why at the expense

children would live a better life. That takes

of feeling less than human, do we have to

ultimate creativity for me, like, I’m “drawing”

exert a superhumanity?” It didn’t register

and creating with art, but I think it takes

then, I was still painting crowns and painting

ultimate creativity to have children in times

halos on everybody, but his point was we

when the conditions don’t support their

should be enough that I don’t need to exert

well-being, but still being creative enough

a super-humanity, like, who I am is enough.

to know that somehow it’s gonna be better

So that’s what the comic book is exploring

for them. That’s an embodiment of that

in a way and, also, I want to point out that

family tree. And young Domte [presented

the comic book features the BE Lite kids,

in the painting] is a young artist. So when

our crew.

I was thinking about who would be a

Anyway, this room goes back to exploring the notion of NOT Supposed 2 BE Here,

good candidate for that particular piece, I thought of him.

from the perspective of race as an identity.

MRM: What I find in your work is that you level

So this piece [see previous spread] is called

the field. You paint Dr. King and very important

Family Tree and what I’m exploring is the

iconic historical figures, but also folks in your

research I did on my own family tree and

own community, equally, and depict them with

I found- well, I’m still researching it - but I

the same care and elevation.

found that I’m eight generations removed from enslavement on my mother’s side of the family and five generations removed from enslavement on my father’s side of the family. I wanted to think about what would a family tree look like if I wanted to paint a family tree? And this is what the family tree looks like, at the bottom all these hands are ancestors, are people from the past. You see some of them had chains on them. We’re lifted up because of those giants in our past. We stand on the shoulders of giants. And something my friend Malik, who is a historian, he has Know NOLA Tours, something he always says is being

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Bmike: Yeah, I think for me, in recent years, it’s been important to transition. I want to do less of the superstar and more of the everyday. And that’s not to be critical of the reason why we paint and why we celebrate those people who are giants, you know? We understand that what made them who they are and why they’re special is important. But what I’ve been thinking about in terms of how I apply my art, and it’s equally important if not more important, is to paint people who I know and who I can see and who I understand and can connect to. So yeah, it’s really changed that. On this wall [top image] that’s a crown up above him and


The Adventures of Black People (When Push Comes to Shove), 2020, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas and wood

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above her, that whole wall piece, the “Why are you here?”, I was thinking about that level of confidence around institutions and if art was supposed to be there? So really it was me thinking about what would happen

own work. And what would that person say? MRM: And then there’s the video where you have many folks from your community stating “I’m not going anywhere”...

if an alternative personality of myself snuck

Bmike: The video was about thinking how

in, in the gallery overnight, and tagged my

would that question [Why are you here?] be

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answered? If you say “You are supposed to

this movie, “Green Pastures.” He was like,

be here” or “Not supposed to be here” what

“There’s a scene where the characters have

would the response be? And it was about,

been baptized. Can you rip that for me?” So,

regardless, we’re not going anywhere. It

I looked it up and found it. It’s this scene of

would probably take a while to speak to how

this man talking to angels that are saying,

I got to “I’m supposed to be here” but I can

‘have you been baptized?’ And, everyone

certainly tell you I’m not going anywhere.

in the movie was Black. But it was an old

The video is a loop of people saying, “I’m

movie from 1936. So I researched it and

not going anywhere,” in a really democratic

the movie came from a Broadway play

way. I just posted [in social media] a status

that was a big hit called “Green Pastures.”

saying, “Yo, send me videos of you saying,

It’s a retelling of Bible stories from a

‘I’m not going anywhere or we’re not going

Black perspective, but it’s done in a way

anywhere.’” And I kept getting all these

where – I don’t know if it’s meant to be

responses, so I just combined them. Some

comical – but there are problems with it

friends are in here and then also heroes of

in terms of representation because I think

mine like Colin Kaepernick, Ava Duvernay,

the audience was not meant to be black

Cory Booker, Rosario Dawson.

people so, you know, they have a fish fry

MRM: Let’s visit the last room and the red installation which is very powerful, and equally powerful are the paintings and the film that you chose to show in that space. Do you mind starting with the film?

in heaven and there are ten-cent cigars at the fish fry. The movie retelling of the Bible from this is very simplified but, as an image, it’s profound. Because a Black man is God and all these angels, they’re black angels, there’s not a white character in the film –

Bmike: Yeah, so this is crazy. I just realized

and this is in 1936. I was just fascinated by

that I referenced Yasiin Bey for a third

the imagery of it and the clouds, the angel’s

time now. But it goes to show you how

wings, I’ve just been stuck on this film

much he impacted me. I spent three years

for a long time. And so, there’s a portrait

just working with him. We did this album

in Studio BE where we explore this as it

together that probably never would be

relates to Hurricane Katrina.

heard by the world. But nevertheless, it was exciting. MRM: Oh, but now we’re curious.

This museum version is called Baptize Reprise, because it’s basically me reimagining the idea that we explored in Studio BE. It’s wild because the film was set

Bmike: It’s called OMFGOD, it’s Mannie

in New Orleans, which I didn’t know when

Fresh and Yasiin Bey. It’s eight songs, and

I first saw it. There’s a scene where the kids

you’ll probably never hear it. But for one of

are asking the Sunday school teacher, “How

the songs, he asked me to pull audio from 28


7


Baptized Reprised, 2020, Mixed media site-specific installation

8


did God create the world?” And he was

Anyway, there are two clips from that

like, “What do you mean?” And the kids say,

movie. There’s one with the angel, where

“Well was there New Orleans?” He was like,

God is asking and singing the songs saying,

“No, there wasn’t no New Orleans. There

“have you been baptized?” And then they

was no Rampart Street. There was no Canal

all sing, and he goes into that creation

Street.” And I was like, wow, good detail.

story, where he creates man. And there’s a

So, it’s based in New Orleans, and actually,

scene from Noah’s Ark where the character

the person who wrote it was a professor at

playing God is talking to the guy who’s

Tulane [Roark Bradford, 1887-1949], that’s

playing Noah, and God is informing him

pretty interesting.

that he’s going to send this flood. And since it’s based in New Orleans, he says, “the

above: Floor Model TV, 2020, Mixed media video installation with sound, featuring clips from The Green Pastures (1936) and A. A. Allen Revival Hour: Under the Aqua Big Top, acrylic on wood; Editing by Brandan”BMike” Odums; technical support provided by Tim Davis and Craftsletes: Eric Brown, Dallas Igiozee, Ja-Riah Matthews, Jilahn Matthews, Derrick Skinner, Jr.

31

levees are gonna bust and everything is gonna be underwater.” And it’s such a very eerie, obscure, but specific description. And then there’s another clip from a revival


from televangelist named A. A. Allen called

Bmike: This painting is “John the Baptist”

“Under the Big Aqua Tent,” it’s basically

and it references baptism. And then those

him preaching about being baptized and it

two paintings on its sides are from lyrics

just plays in this room in a way that’s really

that say “I was blind, but...” and the other

interesting.

one says “I was lost, but...” and reference the

MRM: And where is the reference that when you’re baptized the water turns into blood, which is why you gave the red color to this room? Bmike: There is a clip where he sings and asks the audience, “and we’re not just baptizing you in water, we’re baptizing you in what?” and everybody screams “the blood!” and I just looped it over and over and over again. I encourage everybody to experience the exhibit when you can kind

song “Amazing Grace.” And the end painting is a remix of “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” and it’s featuring a bunch of friends of mine or people I meet randomly at Studio BE. MRM: So Brandan, I think I heard you say that this is what kind of happened during Katrina, that the folks that suffered through Katrina were baptized in a way, and that everyone had to be reborn after Katrina. And this pays a little bit of remembrance to that situation?

and spend time and listen. I turned the

Bmike: Yeah, I guess this is the one part

screen red all filtered through this red color,

of the exhibition that requires you, if you

and then the guy comes in saying, “It was

choose, to go to Studio BE because one of

the blood, it was the blood.” So, I felt since it

these installations is at Studio BE, and this

was about red it should play with the room.

here is part two. I explore more intentionally

MRM: And the whole room is red, with the waterline left after Hurricane Katrina...

the baptism metaphor around Katrina and the Erykah Badu lyric that says we got “baptized when the levees broke.” She said,

Bmike: It’s really about everything below

“This goes out to all my folks baptized when

the line being submerged and deleted. The

the levees broke.” And so, I was thinking

water line and the furniture – everything is

about the repurposing of pain, you know?

swooping. The pieces of furniture are cut in

Repurposing something that was negative

half so they look like they are floating, and

into something that was empowering, and

the feeling is like you’re walking on water.

thinking about the way that in New Orleans,

Thanks to Tim Davis and all the young folk

we constantly – not just with Hurricane

that he’s working with; they helped out with

Katrina – keep redefining pain into

this build-out and the furniture.

something else. So Katrina was an example of that type of alchemy. You can also think

MRM: And the religious themes?

about the way we celebrate death; it’s a redefinition of pain into about something else. 32


A CURATORIAL PERSPECTIVE Q&A BETWEEN LAURA BLEREAU & BMIKE ODUMS Laura Blereau, Curator for the Newcomb Art Museum (LB): Brandan, the centerpiece of your exhibit is a 28-foot painting called Family Tree. It’s the largest indoor work that you’ve created on canvas, and also the largest piece the museum has presented on its central gallery wall. This work monumentally handles themes of ancestral legacy and cultural agency, two universal humancentered experiences. The young figure you painted appears completely free as a superhero gliding through the gallery at jumbo scale, embodying an awareness of past generations. The tree is a powerful metaphor for being and presence. How did you decide to connect the gesture of a crowdsurfer’s outstretched limbs with that of a tree? Bmike: For me this idea of a family tree is a way to visually conceptualize our roots, or past generations and ancestors. I thought about all the different ways in which that could be visualized, including the traditional way with a physical tree and the branches representing different people connected to names or images. But I personally start running into a lot of mystery around my own family tree. I’m still in the process of getting the research back because there isn’t a lot of information with names of people. How can I hide that? Or how can I make the representation of the past without actually identifying who these individuals are? I thought about what that meant. Like what did the family tree mean, and what does my past mean to me? I think about each generation as ideally at its best - better than the one before, in terms of the access to freedoms and standings in society. I wanted to create this image of the newest part of this family tree being lifted by the rest the tree. It’s as if this kid is being lifted by his ancestors. He’s been lifted by all those in his past, and they’re kind of allowing him to soar or allowing him to rise above - allowing him to be at his best, in a better space than they were. All the hands and all the arms represent different people from different times. Some of the arms have chains on them that clearly represent the period of enslavement that his ancestors, my ancestors were a part of. That’s what why it’s called Family Tree. It represents this idea that we stand on the shoulders of giants. I landed on these images of crowd surfing because I like this idea that there’s this sea of potential as relates to those who are beneath him, lifting him beyond the frame. He has this capacity to continue to surf along. When you think about somebody crowd surfing, there’s this movement. That’s part of it. The person isn’t stationary. They’re being passed on, from 33


body to body and hand to hand. I like this idea that that he’s physically in motion. He has this freedom of movement that is allowed by the people who are lifting him. There’s all these different metaphors about around flight. Even when you think about how an airplane flies and what aerodynamically happens to this heavy craft that lifts you. I’m also thinking about time and how those in our past put in the work for us to be able to soar, to move, to freely navigate the things that that are in front of us. LB: Recently you have been researching your family’s genealogy, which has deep roots on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, going back some five to eight generations, all the way back to the early 1800s during the period of hereditary chattel slavery. Your sculpture They Tried to Bury Us draws a powerful connection between oppression and activism, as flowers blossom from a garden of emergent fists. Can you talk about how this piece engages a broader intergenerational narrative of freedom and reconciliation? Bmike: Yeah, definitely. I think that there is this circle of life - what it means to survive and what it means to like resist. It’s this narrative of alchemy where even from painful moments, there were beautiful things that grew. The relay race is such a good metaphor to use in terms of how a baton is passed, and how each time it’s passed, it is handed off in a better condition than how it was received. I think about this metaphor, like this fist coming off the ground with this flower as a passage of life or a baton, like this seed that’s growing. When we die, as Dr. Cornel West said, we turn into the ground and in the ground then we give life to other things. You know, like a flower that grows from concrete. It’s like how did this happen? But yet it does, and it’s beautiful to gaze upon. I’m also thinking about this direct image of a fist, which is a sign of resistance, like the fists in the air is synonymous with so many movements of resistance, specifically to what the way I’m using it - the fist as a sign of black power. Now you think about the image of John Carlos when he was on the Olympic podium when he put the fists in the air, you know this international sign of resistance. So there’s that fist coming out the ground, which represents that death wasn’t the period; it was a comma. Even though these individuals, whoever they are, that are underneath the ground, for them death wasn’t the end. Death wasn’t the end of the story. It was a comma for something else to be born. And so it’s kind of like this sentence where the fist becomes the comma and the flower becomes the rest of the sentence. There’s so many ways to think about it. LB: Who are the superheroes in your painting The Adventures of Black People and where did the idea for this painting originate?

36


Bmike: My whole approach to the entire show was just intentionally thinking about how I can demystify what art is, what art isn’t, or what art should be. I was thinking about the ways in which I was introduced to “art”. My first love of art was through comic books and through cartoons. Some of the first things I drew were Sonic, Ninja Turtles, Dragon Ball Z, and X Men, all direct connections to pop culture. I wanted to have these references present in the art show and to do something that was going to be like a comic book. Then it evolved into this comic book that was making commentary about the value of blackness and the idea of telling one’s story - and the way we kind of glorify the way we tell our stories, and me being honest about that. That’s what I do when I paint pictures. We all have abilities to lionize our own stories and make them into larger than life things. So, I wanted to play with that, as satire. Then somewhere down the line I thought: Who would be on the cover of this comic book? Who would be featured? [The group] BE Lite comes to Studio BE all the time. Every other Sunday they have a meeting. I was sitting with them and it just connected that they should be the ones on the cover. So it happened organically. We took the photos. I told him to dress as if they were retro, and they all came with the exact outfits that they were painted in. Maura had on this hoodie with flames on it, and they just looked like this weird like, superhero group already. We tried different poses and landed on the one that ended up being the painting. I gave Maura the two spray cans. Akilah had the book. Carter has the basketball. Chris has the headphones. I wanted there to be a story, and it was pretty fun to have them featured because I think they’re all going to do great amazing things with their work, with their art, with their creativity. LB: Does the sculpture Landmines Be Disguised as Welcome Signs depict a tragically fallen hero, or perhaps an icon who has fallen out of public favor? I’m curious about your take on about military history monuments in the US and in New Orleans. Bmike: It’s a few things. I’ve always been interested in the stories of people who I look up to, and I have this wall in my apartment that has all these images of people I’ve looked up to through history, some still living. One day, I just had this moment where I realized that each of the people on these walls, like their entire story, ended in tragedy. Most times we focus on the ascension, like the part [of the story] when heroes go from nothing to something. And that becomes like the main focus of what we what we do when we when we look upon these people. When we think about the full story- Chairman Fred Hampton was assassinated. Muhammad Ali died with an ailment where he couldn’t speak, the main thing that made him great. Paul Robeson died on house arrest, pretty much on exile from the country. Fannie Lou Hamer died young, from the health ailment that in a lot of ways was caused by the high stress work 37


she was doing. Dr. King was assassinated. So I’m just thinking about what’s required to be here, in the context of NOT Supposed 2 BE Here. Ultimately what is required to be here? What are some of the outcomes of being here? One of the outcomes is that you build a monument of yourself, or other people build a monument to you. Like, you have to create this character; you have to create this identity. You are this person or other people say, “Oh, you are this person”. The thing about monuments, poetically or physically, is that you build something up so it can be torn down. As a society, we unfortunately like transition-- we enjoy seeing people rise, but we also are equally as fascinated with witnessing their fall. There’s also the idea of not needing to be immortalized, not needing to be turned into a monument to be deemed worthy of value. It’s the idea of no more monuments. We don’t need to lift a person up because even in lifting a single person up, you negate the entire story of who that person is, or what allowed that person to be. So if you make a monument of Dr. King, you’re not honoring all those people that made Dr. King possible - which allowed him to be the person that we think of him as - all those people who moved with him, who planned with him, who even planned for him. 38


ON BEING HERE BMIKE IN CONVERSATION WITH CAROLYN BARBER-PIERRE

Carolyn Barber-Pierre is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Multicultural Affairs at Tulane University and has more than 40 years of professional experience in the field of higher education, diversity and inclusion. She has served in her current position since 2000 during her 34 years at Tulane. In 2019, President Mike Fitts announced the creation of The Carolyn BarberPierre Center for Intercultural Life in honor of Carolyn’s decades of dedication to promoting a diverse, equitable and inclusive community at Tulane.

Bmike: I was excited by the invitation [from the museum] because I have tons of friends who went here and the stories [of their experiences] were ranged, but there were a lot, a lot of similarities in terms of what it’s like to be at a PWI (Predominantly White

of the blackest cities they went to, but – Carolyn Barber-Pierre (CBP): – but that this was one of the whitest places in the world to be. Bmike: Right.

Institution) in the context of New Orleans as a city, as a juxtaposition of both. People from out of town who said, you know, this was one

39

CBP: So I hear you know Harold Sylvester. Bmike: Yeah, Harold, I definitely I consider


opposite: Carolyn Barber-Pierre above: Brandan “Bmike� Odums

22


him a mentor. He was one of the first

show, and I sent him a photo, because I had

professionals when I was super interested

painted him 15-feet-tall for this Nike project

in doing films and video, he was one of the

so I was like I’m about to paint you again, so I

first professionals that was like, ‘you got

did a can because … I wanted to include him

something, let me help.’ And he’s kept his

in some way in this space.

word since… he’s been a good resource and asset and just a voice to call up and say how you think about this? He’s the reason why those walls from Project BE at the Florida housing project were preserved. So, yeah, he’s a good guy. CBP: Yeah, he is. I’ve known him for a long time. Four years ago I think I worked on [a project based] on the desegregation of Tulane and I wanted to interview all of the firsts, and he was the first scholarship black athlete. Bmike: I have a painting of him that’s in the

15

… And that was one of the impetus with this show NOT Supposed 2 BE Here thinking about that Harold is somebody I can call. You know? It’s not like this is hundreds and hundreds of years ago this [history] is right around the corner. CBP: Exactly, yeah. So I’m going to do a couple of general questions and then talk more about this exhibit. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what you know, thinking about how you grew up who your family was, and where you were schooled, what you


were exposed to? How did that shape you as

art – everybody, even teachers would be

a beginning artist, what shaped your desire

like, ‘oh, you’re going to be an artist.’ And I

to want to go in and do this kind of work?

didn’t know what that meant, but I was like,

Bmike: I mean, I like to think it was an affirmation from my peers early on as far as I can remember, I just always loved drawing. You know, just, I was a big fan of Ninja Turtles, I would draw them to show them all the little Ninja Turtles sketchbook. In school first, second, kindergarten, I’m drawing and my peers would be like,’ Oh, this is good. Can I have it?’ And I remember once I gave a friend of mine a drawing I did, and he erased my name and put his name. And so all of these things helped me realize that this is something that makes me unique and makes me special. So that was the main reason I pursued initially the idea of doing

yeah I will be an artist. And as I got older, I would explore it more seriously. I would see different opportunities for artists and I would try to apply and one of those was NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts). And so I went to NOCCA and that was my first formal art thing. I remember the first assignment I did was a pencil drawing. And they do this critique every Monday. They still do it; I’m a mentor to some of the students there now. Still, every Monday is critique, they put up all the pieces and the students talk about what they liked first. And so the last one that’s picked is always the worst one, or the one no one wants to talk about it.

Opening night image of Newcomb Art Museum by Ashley Lorraine

16


So my first assignment, I was the last one

And that’s what I started to do for eight

picked and I remember everybody was just

years. I was on various routes, which is

talking about how they couldn’t see it, they

explored in this room with the different

all asked what type of pencil did you use? I

organizations I was a part of and the places I

said, just regular pencil, what do you mean? I

worked that were all about media art. It’s all

didn’t even know they had art pencils. I used

about visuals and video cameras and photos.

a number two pencil to do this drawing and it was so light, you couldn’t even see it. So I was just completely in a whole new world. I was just like, these kids clearly know art

It was Project BE and graffiti and street art that got me back into visual arts. That was six years ago.

supplies, and I’m just working with a number

CBP: So thinking back you have a lot of people

two pencil. So that was the beginning of me

who inspired you. Where did you find early

wanting to be good as an artist. Because

inspiration for your art versus where do you look

prior to that, it wasn’t a competition thing.

for inspiration now?

It was just like, oh I can do this, I’m good at it. But at that point, I was like, oh, this is

Bmike: Well, early on I remember – or don’t

a competition now. So for my entire time

remember – was when I was in high school

in high school I think art for me was like a

seeing examples of black art, which is why I

competition – I’m just trying to be better

felt like I didn’t see beyond the immediacy of

than everybody in this room. And my judge

creating art being the best in the classroom

of that was to make sure that my pieces were

because I didn’t see examples of this is what

always the first one selected during critique.

art does, this is why people create. So my

Throughout the time in high school, I did

earlier inspirations in terms of art – I was

what was necessary, like an athlete would,

really attracted to filmmaking early on – it

you work out, you study, and I did what was

was Spike Lee, it was music video directors,

necessary to be the first one selected. And

Little X and Hype Williams. I was able to

once I reached that point around my 11th-

identify those people and say, okay, these

grade year, it was just like from then on I was

are individuals that are creating something

always the first one selected. I was always

that I find exciting. But there were no visual

the one highly considered in the school as an

artists in that category. In high school they

artist and that was it for me. I was like, okay,

introduced me to Basquiat, but I was not

I’m done with art.

impressed. Because at that point, to me, art was a technical thing, like how good are you

It was like just something in the file cabinet

technically. When I saw his work, I wasn’t

in my brain, okay, I know how to make pretty

able to grasp why people liked it, I was like,

pictures if I want to. But when I graduated, I

my little brother can do stuff like this. So

didn’t want to anymore. I got into filmmaking.

early on my inspirations artistically, it was

43


Exterior of Studio BE, image courtesy of Studio BE

26


all filmmaking and music. There’s a ton of

was saying, what he’s communicating. And

inspirations in music rappers and poets that

that’s what makes the pieces even more

I found to be like, okay, this is it, they’re doing

exciting to me now. So yeah, I think now I

it on a high level.

have a more robust list of inspiration, but

Then when I got into college, I had some really good professors at UNO (University

it definitely was Gordon Parks and Emory Douglas first.

of New Orleans), and in an African American

CBP: How has the sense of place, of living in a

politics class we got into the black panthers

place, like New Orleans, Louisiana during these

and I got introduced to Emory Douglas. That

last 10/15 years you’ve been here? How has

was the first visual artists that I was like, yo, I

that really had an impact on your work?

want to do it like that.

Bmike: It has a lot [of impact] in terms of

Then at the same time when I was

thinking about how the best of New Orleans

graduating from high school, I received a

is always, in my opinion, not presented

scholarship for doing multiple disciplines at

behind a closed door. You know? The best

NOCCA because I went for media arts and

of New Orleans is accessible to everyone.

visual arts and the father of the family that

And to me, that was a lesson in terms of

had funded the scholarship contacted me

the function of art. There was an elder, a

and said, you remind me of Gordon Parks,

mentor of mine who was Apache and lives

and I was like who is that? And he said, oh

and works on an Apache Reservation called

I’m going to send you some books. I got this

San Carlos, he said art was always about

shipment of three books from Gordon Parks

survival technology – it was like if a native

– his photo book, his memoir, and, I think,

person was weaving a basket, it wasn’t just a

a poetry book. Then I was completely like,

basket for show; it had a function. And I think

Gordon Parks is the GOAT (greatest of all

about art in New Orleans in that same way.

time) for me, right?

Our art has always had a type of function

So I think the first two early black artists that I was like I want to do it like that was Emory Douglas and Gordon Parks. As I got older, it continued to be more filmmakers and musicians that held my attention the longest. It wasn’t until recently, the last four or five years, that I began to really, really look at visual artists – contemporary ones like

that wasn’t just about presenting something for the aesthetic pleasure – it always had a function. You think about the masking Indians, you think about the music, you think about the food, and the art here – it has a type of function. And to me, that broadened my perspective on what art is supposed to be, and supposed to do.

Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker. I revisited

I think early on, I was never interested or

Basquiat and began to understand what he

attracted to the idea of being an artist as a

45


title to say, you know, this is what makes me

other side of it is that it is kind of unfortunate

special. I remember hearing Kalamu y Salam

that there aren’t many examples of

speak and somebody asked him how to make

“successful” artists here. It depends on your

a living as an artist, thinking that he would

definition of success. But there are many

give an answer that was based around, you

examples of like, the big big, even the best

know, work hard. And his answer was, why

musicians – it’s not like they’re living on

do you think you need to make a living as an

the hill. And so for me, that would be what

artist? What makes you think you deserve

New Orleans has taught me. I don’t think I

something just because you can sing, you can

would have learned that lesson had I been

dance? I’m supposed to give you money? He

developed in LA or New York and that’s an

kind of broke down that idea and was like,

oversimplification cause I’m pretty sure

what are you doing? What is your function,

those spaces have their authentic voices.

what are you teaching? Are you building? And I was like, yeah, that’s true. Like what function does art have? And I think New Orleans taught me that. You can look at it two ways because the

But yeah, so I think that’s what New Orleans taught to me – what is the function of what I’m doing? And that’s where street art became an important avenue for me, because I understand the function of this.

Where do you belong?, 2020, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas in custom frames

46


Understanding what this is doing – not just for me – but for others. In the same way, I understand what a brass band playing in the street is not only doing for the musicians, not only just showing how great they can play, but it has a function for all those around them.

understand it’s necessary. But outside of that, I don’t think I’ve changed much in terms of what I want to say or how I’m saying it. If anything it is giving me a type of focus. At its best, I think galleries and museums allow a type of focus where people come in with an expectation. And that’s not

CBP: What change have you personally had to

normal [for me]. Because when I’m painting

make going from a street artist to exhibiting in a

in the street there’s no expectation – I’m

museum? And then as a follow-up question, why

in the public space. Or even in my space in

this theme? Why now?

Studio BE, there isn’t much of an expectation

Bmike: I think that maybe I could think about this more when I’m a little bit out of it, when I’m not in the middle of the storm, I guess in a way. But I think the main change is scale for me, because most times scale

because most people come in and they’re like, oh, I heard from somebody I should be here. But at an art gallery there’s an expectation that you’re going to see art. So that’s good, and bad, too.

isn’t a limitation, painting outdoors, and

CBP: So the “not supposed to be here,” what

even in my space at Studio BE, scale is not a

is your message? How did you come to this

huge limitation. But I understand the reason

reckoning? What do you hope for this piece to

for limiting yourself because of scale. And

do?

I’m having a tough time with that I keep wanting to add – it’s like trying to force myself to simplify… I had to force myself to work smaller. And so I think, even though I don’t think I successfully did it enough, that was one of the things I thought about going into this. How can I force myself to work smaller? Also just thinking about the way in which I’m used to working, dealing with, or, not having to deal, with timelines and check-ins. That’s a little bit different. I’m used to the collaborative nature of art, including people, so that’s not a new thing, but having involvement with more people, with a type of authority around checking in, it was part of the agreement for this that’s different, but I 47

Bmike: There’s a lot of layers to it. How it came about, I was just thinking about the idea of showing work in a museum and the idea I still trip out about people introducing me as an artist. I was thinking about like the last five, six years of my life, and how I spent 10 years trying to do one thing, and then out of nowhere, something else snuck up and then it’s been five years of doing that. And it’s still coming into terms of what that is – like the art aspect of being an artist or showing art and still being an outsider, purposely, you know, not really having representation, not banging the drum too loud about trying to sell. Still existing on the outside, purposely,


in a way. And this being an entry point into

here – to inform and educate and disprove

a type of inside that if you would have told

to folks that it didn’t happen overnight. I

me five years ago [this show would happen],

didn’t go the route of some artists, but the

I would have said no, probably not even

route I went on was as informative and as

because I didn’t see it, but just because I

laboring as any other. So that’s what I’m

wouldn’t have wanted it. I would have been

exploring in this [media-centered] room, like

like “No. That’s not for me.”

the years of doing the media work and the

So the exploration of all of that in terms of “not supposed to be here” is the question for me and it’s a question for the viewer. The way I broke it down in this space is four main categories. One is the personal, in terms of me exploring that within myself. Since my story is a little bit different from other artists, I wanted to really explore how I got

community work with the cameras as my choice of weapons, like Gordon Parks, and all the lessons I learned on that route. So that’s above: 2-Cent, 2005-2019 Video Highlights, 2020, Three-channel video installation with sound, photo reproductions, acrylic and spray paint on wood; Editing by Brandan”BMike” Odums; technical support provided by Tim Davis and Craftsletes: Eric Brown, Dallas Igiozee, Ja-Riah Matthews, Jilahn Matthews, Derrick Skinner, Jr. Supported in part by a Community Arts Grant from theNew Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

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one part of it “not supposed to be” as an

here? And you can make that a question or

artist thinking about the imposter syndrome

an argument. There’s pieces in the show

that can happen, right? When you’re invited

that kind of explore this concept. The big

into certain spaces, like, oh do I belong? Am I

piece called family tree explored my own

supposed to be here?

lineage here, the long history here, and

And then I zoom out a little bit and think about as a race in its entirety, about black people, are we supposed to be here – thinking about this specific context to Tulane

finding out that I’m five generations removed from a slave on my father’s side, and eight generations on my mother’s side. I’m just really thinking about them, exploring that.

as well as to the South. You know? The fact

And then I zoom out a little bit more

that it wasn’t that long ago when I wouldn’t

and am thinking about this region, and

have been allowed to be here. So thinking

“not supposed to be here” in terms of

about that as a whole in terms of race, how

environmental. I’m thinking about water,

did we get here? Are we supposed to be

flooding, Hurricane Katrina, and how it has

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worked, and the people saying, ‘Oh, in 100

okay, this is a good gesture, but let’s look at

years New Orleans won’t be here.’

this… I don’t know if I have conclusions about

And then the final layer is thinking about this space as a whole. Is art supposed to be in a museum? Is this the place where art is supposed to live? And questioning why is my art here? So the exploration is a question, but

it, especially when it comes to art because art is a type of performance, a type of communication. I’m open to leaving openingended questions to thinking about how does the viewer feel from the experience?

the title is a statement because I’m curious if

I remember when Exhibit BE happened

people will read it as the” not” being crossed

that was like a learning ground for me

out and not even saying it, and instead

because I was trying to be very specific

saying, supposed to be here. It’s a choice to in

and very intentional with what I was

terms of how one chooses to communicate,

communicating. And one of the things I

they can say “supposed to be here,” or they

wanted to communicate was that I wanted

can say “not supposed to be there.” I like the

to be confrontational to those who weren’t

fact that it requires a level of agency within

typically welcomed in that space. This

the reader to think, okay, how are they going

[Exhibit BE] was in a housing project and

to interpret it?

I knew that the art would invite people in

CBP: As somebody who’s worked at an institution for a long time, a predominately white institution, an institution that historically wasn’t as welcoming to people who look like us, or underrepresented, I want to know what does it mean to have your artwork featured in a place like this?

who had never been into a housing project before. And I wanted to be confrontational about that, I wanted them to understand that they are in a space that they would not have visited had it not been for the art. And I remember I got a positive message from a friend of mine who’s white, and he said, I love that the space was so welcoming. And I

Bmike: I tried to think about that as best I

was like, dang, I failed, because I didn’t want

could… There’s the overall [university] and

him to feel like it was welcoming, right? I

the institution of art itself. And they both

wanted him to feel like this is different. But

lend themselves to the same narrative in

I understood that there was power from

terms of exclusion and in telling a type of

the welcome that he received was, that

story in a certain type of way for a very long

this is valuable, and had an impact as well.

time. And these spaces are now starting to

But on that day, I was like, I want you to

attempt to correct or to shift. Then there’s

understand that you were in a space that you

the work that’s done within this shift – you

wouldn’t have been in. So from that point

know what I mean – constantly being critical

on, I understood that with art I lose agency

of how the shifts are happening and saying,

whenever I put it on the wall. And I can only

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hope that what was communicated has an

of example that I’m showing. You know,

impact and allows people to ask questions to

I’m so upset that I wasn’t unaware of John

explore their own answer.

Scott’s work when I was in high school, all

CBP: You are definitely a trailblazer and visionary for your generation. As we begin to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, what do you want young people to glean from your legacy as an artist, what do you hope? (note: this interview took place the week prior to the opening of NOT Supposed 2 BE Here on January 18)

the great artists in the city of New Orleans that I was unaware of because, for whatever reason, it wasn’t introduced to me. When young artists and young students come to these spaces and they see myself and they see my work, I understand the power that it has in doing what I didn’t get when I was in school. And if anything, I would hope that the idea that is represented from however

Bmike: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought

my work is summarized is that it didn’t

about it that way. When we’re doing tours

require superpowers. It didn’t require some

with Studio BE with students, and especially

“beyond” experience. You know? I went to

students of color, I’m conscious of the type

New Orleans public schools. I share a lot of

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reality with most people in New Orleans,

know I’ve benefited from when I understood

especially young people of color in the city.

that my job is to shed light. And once you

And so I would hope that it’s an example that

shed that light, then people become more

says they can do it better. I remember one

aware of what’s happening, and they do

time there was a kid who was like, “I want

what’s necessary to get themselves free. So

to do that.” And I was like, that’s the whole

you shed light on the context. You shed light

point, you can, and I want you to understand

on the bars, the cage of it, the locked doors,

that you can do way better. And, if anything,

and they’re like, “oh, word, this is where I’m

this is just an example that shows that it’s

not supposed to be. I’m going to do what’s

possible.

necessary to open the door, banging down

One of my favorite quotes from James Baldwin talks about how you live in the sunlit prison of the American Dream. It speaks

the door, sneaking in windows.” And so I think, if anything, that’s the legacy I want to be a part of, because I know it did good for

about this idea of how oftentimes we think the idea is to pass out keys and to let people

above: Exhibit BE, image courtesy of Studio BE

free by giving them, physically, the key. But I 52


me, seeing examples of that. So I feel like

painting. So being able to do that is really

I’m just another part of that larger legacy of

exciting. And we got a dope group of young

resilient people who say, you know what?

artists called BE Lite and I’m excited about

You can’t keep me out long.

how excited they are about making art. Do

CBP: Well, thank you. I wanted to ask you what’s next?

you know? I think it’s important. I understand now why elders and teachers I’ve grown up with were super interested in what I was

Bmike: I hope we can take a real sabbatical.

doing because it is contagious. Being around

There’s a lot of stuff that I want to do that I’m

them being so excited to create, makes me

excited about exploring. One of my favorite

remember why it’s exciting to create. Not

things now is being able to connect painting

that I forgot, but it’s good to be reminded

to research, the same way I would have

sometimes. So I’m hoping to continue to

approached a documentary, but with the

work with them. God willing, I’ll be around

final outcome being a painting. I’m excited

for a minute.

to really have conversations and collaborate and think about how to communicate something that will ultimately become a 53

above: Brandan “Bmike” Odums with members of BELite and Studio BE. Photo by Ashley Lorraine.


ABOUT THE ARTIST “Bmike” Odums (b. 1985) is a New Orleans-based visual artist engaged in a transnational dialogue about the intersection of art and resistance. Using film, painting, and site-specific installation, Bmike’s work captures contemporary American social phenomena such as the political fervor of a generation of activists coming of age amidst the nation’s first Black president, the emergence of the self-care movement, and a resurgence in awareness of violence by law enforcement. After graduating from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Bmike worked as a filmmaker, creating original content through 2-Cent Entertainment, LLC and directing music videos for hip-hop artists like Curren$y, Juvenile, and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def). Attracted to the decidedly temporary nature of graffiti, he began experimenting with the medium in 2012. His critically-acclaimed BE mural trilogy is sited throughout New Orleans and includes the former Florida Housing Project in the Lower Ninth Ward (Project BE, 2013), the five-story DeGaulle Manor apartment complex in Algiers (Exhibit BE, 2014), and a 35,000 square foot warehouse in the Bywater neighborhood (Studio BE, 2015-ongoing). Outside of New Orleans, Bmike’s murals appear in New York City’s Times Square, a men’s prison in Southern California, the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, and on the streets of Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Jersey City, and along border walls of the West Bank. His collaborations have included partnerships with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Amnesty International, Boys & Girls Club, Colin Kaepernicks’ Know My Rights Camp, Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY, Common’s Imagine Justice, Nike, Cadillac, Red Bull, Starz, Spotify, OnStar, Bleacher Report, Complex Magazine, Revolt TV, and the Young Artist Movement youth mural project in New Orleans. The recipient of an NAACP Image Award, Bmike has lectured at the Aspen Institute, TED conference, and many prestigious universities. Learn more at ephemeraleternal.com.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University builds on the Newcomb College legacy of education, social enterprise, and artistic experience. Presenting inspiring exhibitions and programs that engage communities both on and off campus, the museum fosters the creative exchange of ideas and cross-disciplinary collaborations around innovative art and design. The museum preserves and advances scholarship on the Newcomb and Tulane art collections. The academic institution for which the museum is named was founded in 1886 as the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in America. The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College was distinguished for educating women in the sciences, physical education, and, most importantly, art education. Out of its famed arts program, the Newcomb Pottery was born. In operation from 1895 until 1940, the Newcomb enterprise produced metalwork, fiber arts, and the now internationally renowned Newcomb pottery. The museum today presents original exhibitions and programs that explore socially engaged art, civic dialogue, and community transformation. The museum also pays tribute to its heritage through shows that recognize the contributions of women to the fields of art and design. As an entity of an academic institution, the Newcomb Art Museum creates exhibitions that utilize the critical frameworks of diverse disciplines in conceptualizing and interpreting art and design. By presenting issues relevant to Tulane and the greater New Orleans region, the museum also serves as a gateway between on and off campus constituencies.

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Tulane University 6823 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70118 NewcombArtMuseum.Tulane.edu 504.865.5328

Profile for Newcomb Art Museum

Brandan "Bmike" Odums: NOT Supposed 2 BE Here" Exhibition Catalogue  

Brandan "Bmike" Odums: NOT Supposed 2 BE Here" Exhibition Catalogue from Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University

Brandan "Bmike" Odums: NOT Supposed 2 BE Here" Exhibition Catalogue  

Brandan "Bmike" Odums: NOT Supposed 2 BE Here" Exhibition Catalogue from Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University

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