Community Voices in the Galleries: David Thete on Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work

Community Voices in the Galleries: David Thete on Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work

On Thursday, October 19, the PMA hosted "Community Voices in the Galleries: Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work," a conversation facilitated by artist and educator Terrence Wolfe and David Thete, Creative Director of the Kesho Wazo art collaborative. Below is David Thete's reflections on the event. For Terrence Wolfe's reflections, click here.

First off, I would like to thank Terrence Wolfe for inviting me on the platform to speak at the PMA about identity and Nan Goldin’s work. This has truly been such a learning experience for me. When I was first approached with this opportunity a few months ago, I made a quick decision without putting much thought into it, and accepted the offer.  I actually didn’t know who Nan Goldin was until Erin Murphy, who is currently filming a documentary on Kesho Wazo, gave me an overview and told me her work has been at MoMA. As a first-year art student, my background in photography was very limited. I’m more used to being the one in a photo than the person taking it.

After that, I started doing some research of my own on Nan Goldin’s work. I discovered that the photos she takes are from unique experiences and part of her everyday life. I was most interested in the way her relationships with each person she photographed affected her art, and how it was part of her process to care for these people by housing them and showing them they mattered to the community. Weeks went by. I had started school at Maine College of Art, and switched into a digital photography class. My professor, Kate Greene, told me it was going to be hard to catch up in the class after joining a month late. I told her I was willing to put in the work, especially because of the upcoming Nan Goldin exhibition. My professor helped me get caught up in the class, was incredibly supportive and excited about my event, and took me to the PMA to check out the exhibition.

Fast forward to the day of the event, and I'm in the gallery looking at Nan’s work from 1972, when she was 19 years old. Even though I’d studied her work so carefully, it finally clicked. It hit me all of a sudden that I saw myself in her work, and how similar our situations were. How at the age of 19 she was a pioneer of a historical movement, and providing a platform for the minorities in her community. Simply by doing what she loved, she was opening up doors and making room for minorities to be heard. One of my goals as an artist is to provide a platform for my community and loved ones who don't have the access to the tools and resources they need to accomplish their dreams and visions.

Everything about this experience has allowed me to do this. As one of the youngest black artists to be featured in a PMA gallery talk, it was great to look out into the crowd and see my queer, people of color, and Muslim friends. The space we created helps them feel energized to speak out on their experiences. I listened as a friend who is a black Muslim woman spoke out against white supremacy in a predominately white space. All these things occurred through this one event. We, as marginalized communities, were out in the open, our identities empowered through exploring the work of Nan Goldin.

I will be honest: part of me felt uncomfortable speaking on work that is centered on the LGBT+ and drag community, being a black, heterosexual male, and coming from a very homophobic upbringing. I thought to myself that I can't connect to this work because I am not gay myself. It isn't right for me to voice my thoughts. I was nervous my verbiage would be politically incorrect and offend people in the crowd, but I knew I had to put myself out there and learn from all of this. Without the support from my friends, who are part of the LGBT+ community, I don't believe I would be able to be on that stage. Speaking out for marginalized groups that you yourself cannot identify with can be very hazardous, and I understand that I come from a place of privilege as a straight male, and I still have a lot to learn about the LGBT+ community. This platform has helped me be more understanding and accepting to all people.

I would like to thank the Portland Museum of Art for this platform. Inviting me to be part of this conversation is groundbreaking for this community. I never imagined that my voice would have an impact on this community here in Portland, and that people would care and be affected by it. I hope that I can pioneer the way for more minorities groups, black artists, and members of the LGBT+  community to be featured in the Portland Museum of Art and other dominantly white spaces.

Lastly, this message is to all the young artists and creators in this community. It is our duty as Indigo Children to raise the consciousness level and awareness in our communities. Do not be fret by the many challenges our generation faces. Through unity and art we can break these barriers down. Always speak out for what you believe is right. Remember that if you are neutral in a situation of conflict, then you are choosing the side of the oppressor. It is time for the youth to lead the way, and come forth with our ideas.

Don't wait for the Revolution to start, be the Revolution. Peace and Love. -Wazo Daveed

Image: Nan Goldin (United States, born 1953), "Cookie with Max in the hammock, Provincetown," 1977, silver-dye bleach print, 9 x 13 inches. © Nan Goldin, courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

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October 26, 2017
Founder, Kesho Wazo

David Thete (pronounced DAV•EED THEET) is a 19-year-old artist, youth advocate, and anticipated graduate of Maine College of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. After graduating high school in the spring of 2016, Daveed spent his time building his art portfolio through the emerging art community in Portland. Whether it’s through fashion, music, or visual arts, Daveed has been involved with it all, most significantly creating a youth art collective called Kesho Wazo. The focus of the collective is youth art (Kesho Wazo translates to “Tomorrow's Ideas” in Swahili) and creating a platform for young people by advancing youth through artistic expressions, individuality, and cultural experiences. Although his career as an artist is just getting started, Daveed has had visual mural installations featured in Space Gallery, released a debut album with Kesho Wazo, and on November 4, will deliver a talk for Tedx Dirigo at the State Theatre.