Suzanne Broughel is a sculpture and installation artist in New York City. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1, Marlborough Gallery, the University of Memphis, Rush Arts Gallery and Longwood Art Gallery, among others. She’s received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and A.I.R. Gallery. Her work uses a visual language to discuss racial issues between white and black people. We visited her presentation space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn because her studio practice doesn’t really involve a studio.
I don’t generally make work here. This is my friend’s space. He barely uses it. He’s a photographer and he travels a lot so he told me I could use it. I live in Manhattan. I’m in the Times Square area. I make work all over the place. A lot of the time, I make work on-site. I’ll do installations in the gallery for weeks.
At the University of Memphis, I made this big sculpture of afro picks embedded in the wall. That took a week to make. They were so great to me at the University of Memphis. They put me up, on campus, and I had 24-hour access. I could work at whatever crazy time I wanted to.
Where I work also depends on what I need to do. I needed a sewing machine to make a huge braided rope of 80 white bedsheets and I had a friend with a sewing machine in Washington Heights. I move things all over the place. Cab drivers tend to be my art handlers.
I bought the white sheets from thrift stores. I always love getting materials. It was fascinating because I went to every thrift store in the city and there’s such a class system depending on what neighbourhood you’re in. Obtaining the materials is an important part of the work. I’ve done projects where I only bought soap from black-owned stores.
The work ends up with a physical product but there’s a performative or interactive element. I went into stores and put myself in that situation where it’s really awkward finding out if it’s a black-owned store. It’s always worse in your head than it really is.
I grew up a self-loathing Irish Catholic in the town of Yonkers and my work is primarily about race and white supremacy. Yonkers is very segregated, de facto segregation to the point where the federal government forced them to integrate schools and housing. I was in a predominately black school with a pretty overtly racist father who wasn’t happy I was there. As I’m doing more reading, I realize why I was alienated from the Irish-American culture.
I’m a news junky. I’m always following a news story. That’s the good thing about Facebook–most of my friends are either politically-oriented or artists and it’s like having a personalized news feed. I can’t control myself with how many stories I’m following.
My work gets the whole spectrum of reactions from every race. I keep saying, ‘You have to become comfortable being uncomfortable.’ I think the problem is silence, especially silence by white people, which I understand because it’s so uncomfortable–but you can’t wait until you’re perfect. You can’t say, ‘I’ve done all my anti-racism work and I’m this perfect human being now.’ You gotta start where you are. I mean, you have to do it consciously, not ignorantly, not haphazardly, but at the same time, you have to put yourself out there.
–Suzanne Broughel, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Vuk Dragojevic
Visit Suzanne Broughel’s website here.