Jeffrey Gibson (BFA 1995) is an interdisciplinary artist who addresses issues of identity in his work, which involves installation, performance, craft, and painting. A member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Gibson pulls from his cultural heritage and his experience growing up in urban areas around the world, from Korea to Germany, to create his multifaceted works. Gibson returns to SAIC for his Distinguished Alumni Visiting Artists Program lecture on October 28. For a full listing of VAP lectures, see saic.edu/vap.
What attracted you to art?
Probably moving around so much. It was kind of a flattened, consistent thing that I was able to bring with me everywhere. When we would move some place new, we would oftentimes end up in the museum as a kind of introduction to where we were living. I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler, and it’s something that I think my mother encouraged.
How does your Native American identity and growing up overseas affect your practice?
When I would come back to the United States, race always played a much bigger role than in any other country. In other countries, it was always important that I was American. The Native American side of my heritage would take a back seat. I could engage in a different way. Also, I think just the nature of traveling: you pick up influences and experiences that are outside of your norm and your home life, and it impacts you.
Were there any SAIC faculty members who influenced you?
Students would sign up for [Maureen Sherlock’s class] semester after semester. She was incredible and would always oversubscribe her class, so we’d all be packed into this tiny classroom. She preached to us about everything from what she read in the paper that day to something that happened 100 years ago. People who responded well to her were people who had a sense of idealism and wanted to do something with social change. She was the kind of person you hope to meet in an art school.
Do you have words of advice for current students?
If you put your ego down and make work from a genuine, earnest place that you think belongs in the world, I guarantee you someone out there is your age, your generation, your mindset, and looking for that kind of representation. A long time ago someone said to me, “Why don’t you support the people who support you?” Now I really think about that.