SITE-SPECIFIC: What does critical pedagogy mean to you? How has your art-making practice informed your approach to pedagogy? Conversely, how does your approach to pedagogy inform your art-making?
FATIMAH TUGGAR: At the heart of critical pedagogy is thinking. Learning to think critically, which should result in taking actions and responsibility for yourself and on behalf of others. In my classrooms, I encourage thinking on various levels; through production and a dynamic of constructive peer to peer exchange in order to create a community learning environment that is safe but honest. This can inspire students to view their peers and planet as evolving resources, and reinforces the skills of self-directed, life-long, independent, and collective learning. Through this students are empowered to challenge dogmas, including their own.
I am committed to teaching as a personal expression of my professional goals and values. These values include expanding the territories that art and artists explore. The goals include pushing back the boundaries of the studio and the classroom to include a greater global community. The system of mutual learning and teaching is synonymous, for me, with the creative action of taking responsibility. Creative action through teaching is my way of ensuring that there will be ongoing meaningful dialogues with other artists, and their work, throughout my own practice.
“Representation matters because meaning and interpretation depends on access to power and knowledge. Since, we don’t all have access to the same level of power and knowledge, we have to be mindful of the impact of our own bias and privileged accesses.”
S: Where do you begin when talking about the critical issues of representation in art? What about representation should artists and designers be mindful of in their practice, and why does this matter?
T: Representation is how human beings create and share meaning for both the imagined and tangible aspects of existence. It is therefore, critical to the production of all creative cultural workers including visual artist. Our relationship to meaning or cultural signification is an emotional one. There is a constant struggle for meaning and ownership of signifiers. Artist and designers have the responsibility of both using and creating cultural signification that is both effective in communicating intended meanings and at the same time being culturally sensitive enough so unintended meanings and readings do not get ascribed to their cultural productions.
Representation matters because meaning and interpretation depends on access to power and knowledge. Since, we don’t all have access to the same level of power and knowledge, we have to be mindful of the impact of our own bias and privileged accesses. We have to ask ourselves in the making process, who is being represented? How are they represented? Who is the interpreting audience and what are their biases? In other words, meaning matters in time, place, how and why. The artist has to be aware that life experiences; individual backgrounds, cultural context, beliefs, psychological states, social and economic status, etc. all affect meaning.
S: In talking about your work, you have said that “barriers that bring familiarity or safety can become prisons.” What do these “prisons” look like and how do you step outside the familiar in your own practice and teaching? How do encourage your students to do the same?
Well, in life generally, putting up physical or psychological barriers can bring safety, security and exclude the unfamiliar but the downside of that barrier is a kind of imprisonment, even if it is self imposed.
As an artist, I think it is important not to be trapped by your work. Some artists are trapped in mediums and approaches, some by public or institutional sanction. I believe the materials and approaches to making should be in the service of ideas. So, I don’t work in a single medium or approach – these shift with ideas. This approach to making is risky in the sense that failure is palpable; you are constantly having to learn new approaches, understand new materials and it takes you out of your comfort zone but then it can be very rewarding. Working this way also has some social and financial consequences as commercial art market prefers a branding by medium or even associates or ascribes the use of particular subject matters and materials to different ethnicities.
In most of my classes, the emphasis is on thinking and ideas. Independent thinking allows students to form learning habits that motivate them to become fearless in their ability to tackle creative challenges. These challenges arise out of a rigorous engagement of ideas, processes, and material/media. I make sure my students have a basic foundation in technical craft, aesthetic histories, and a wide range of theories and practical approaches to art making. Building on this, my pedagogical emphasis is that students learn to choose and use tools based on a clear understanding of their goals. In both my artistic and teaching philosophies, techniques and applications are only a means to an end. This teaching method does not overload the student with information. It enables students to build the skills of finding and testing their own discoveries. This exploratory skill has broad applications in life and art.
“As a visual artist, I strongly favor visual communication. The visual can transcend the verbal if you work in a disciplined manner and do the hard work of building skills to create a visual vocabulary. Fine tuning this is a life-long on going process for me.”
S: Some recurring themes in your work are language and culture, as well as the politics they bring with them, and technology’s impact on culture. What about these themes do you find most compelling and why do you pursue them over others?
I don’t think, I fully understand this question. But I will answer in this way. I make art because I have something to say; usually I am curious and or have experience with and have some understanding of the subjects I engage.
Being introduced to international travel very early in life as well as being educated on three continents tends to spike your interest in cultural comparative analysis. Types of technology and technological access shifts with geography. This may account for my interest in technology not as a fad but as a metaphor for power dynamics. As for politics I see art as one of the many tools one can use in advancement of social justice. This is also reflective of my parents example of community service.
Being raised bi-lingual and having some ability to communicate in a total of four languages has had an impact on my artwork and peaked my interest in structural linguistics as it relates to semiology. Speaking more than one language allows me access to more ways of seeing, since the structure of each of the languages brings with it a different system. As a visual artist, I strongly favor visual communication. The visual can transcend the verbal if you work in a disciplined manner and do the hard work of building skills to create a visual vocabulary. Fine tuning this is a life-long on going process for me.
S: What is the role of creativity in advancing equity?
Artists are cultural producers, but since we live in a world in which corporatocracy is now the primary producer of culture, creative cultural work is more critical then ever in having diverse counter-hegemonic voices for the advancement of social, economic and gender equity.