- A Conversation with Ben Hamburger
I am so honored to be sitting down with you to talk a little bit about your work and what inspires you, what motivates you. Tell us first a little bit about yourself, and more importantly what you want south readers to know about you.
Cool. Well, I’m so glad to be featured in the journal, and I’m really excited to be involved with the project in general. I am from Maryland and have been living in the South in different places for the past ten years or so, from Florida to New Orleans to Baltimore, which is technically the South, to here in Carrboro, North Carolina, where I recently moved. I am a painter, art teacher, and community artist.
For our readers and for the scholars who aren’t necessarily art historians or folks who do work in material culture, what’s a community artist?
Part of my artistic practice is engaging with people in whatever location I am in. So sometimes I do that through teaching workshops or collaborative art-making experiences or just going out and talking with people and meeting people in ways that inform my work. So, to me, when I say I am a community artist, there is some degree of social engagement that influences my process. And, like I said, that has taken a lot of forms and shapes throughout my life, but I think that my sense of place is really important to my work and getting to know and working with people around me is a really important part of getting to know where I am and what it’s all about. So that kind of sharing of the creative process is what community art is to me.
It reminds me, thinking of the painting itself and the situation of flight, from my particular vantage point of a person of African descent, there is a grateful feeling of flight in terms of viewing that painting. And the sense of the mooring that the Confederacy has here. The whole aspect of the painting—the view from the back of the truck—the 18 wheeler to be more precise—the choice of color. Tell me how you came to this. Tell us a little bit about how you came to the painting itself, but also readers might not know, it’s part of a series of paintings, right? I find that fascinating. [End Page 80]
It is part of a larger series of work based around the removal of Confederate statues, and so I guess I’ll start off talking about that and more specifically the painting itself. To me, this removal of Confederate monuments is not separated from the cultural landscape itself. So, when I get to a new place, part of what I do is go outside and start painting what I see. I drive around, talking to people. These monuments have been such an integral part of the landscape in the places that I’ve been and their removal is such a powerful part of that landscape as well because it’s such a topic of conversation, symbolically and physically. Its removal affects the place and my sense of place. And so immediately when I relocated to North Carolina in this kind of academic hub of the South, I’m thinking about this place and the South in general and the removal of these monuments just seemed to be such a prevalent subject in my mind, and I felt the need to address it in my work and painting. So, it started off with me just watching videos of the monuments being removed, the different ways in which they were taken down—and me thinking about this and pondering it and beginning to paint images of it. As I started painting images of monuments being taken down in New Orleans, in Durham, and eventually in Baltimore where this Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monument that’s depicted in the painting was removed, I started to learn more about the different cases and instances of their being taken...