red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb) was recently performed in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center. While they were in town, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Theaster Gates sat down for an interview with artist Susy Bielak to share the history of their intent, not only for rbGb, but throughout the timeline of their individual and interrelated disciplines. The conversation offers rare insight into how Theaster’s practice became embedded in the work of rbGb.
Bamuthi on Theaster:
[I]n the beginning, I knew Theaster as a craftsman who also had mad swag. That’s important. Of nine elements that I could name in hip-hop, style is paramount. He was someone who was classically trained and was revisiting all of these traditions in both performance and in materials—sometimes clay, sometimes paper, various textiles. I saw him as a person who was changing the trajectory and also inspiring other performers with how they get down. And I think what keeps us together are not only these shared interests, but Theaster’s particular leadership in pushing the whole art world more toward a holistic center that embodies all these different values, while also lifting up this style portion at the same time. It’s pretty extraordinary.
Theaster on activism:
I don’t use the word activism. My dad was kind of an anti-activist. He had nine children, so when people were protesting, he went to work. For him and the survival of his family, labor felt like the most active duty that he could participate in. I grew up thinking that my politics would be more in my hand and in my body and in labor. It was late that I came to the idea that a political voice could create change. These days, I’m trying to leverage both my hand and political voice, and gain an understanding of how systems and structures work and what’s needed. Is my hand needed more in this situation, or my voice?