We had the good fortune of connecting with Aaron Coleman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aaron, why did you pursue a creative career?
Art has a way of offering people an opportunity to experience something they otherwise may have never experienced. As an artist I find myself a member of a community of creative humans who research and make work about an extremely wide range of topics and ideas. Some are focused on the sociopolitical i.e. gender, race, religion, government while others explore identity, personal experience, love, and memory etc. Others move between multiple ideas and concepts. I think this wide range makes art accessible to almost anyone. The work I make is meant to open conversations regarding difficult topics. I find that when people view my work they are moved in a way that may not happen in a general conversation. In a way, they get to have an intimate experience with my work and learn about who I am without me being present. They don’t hear my voice or tone…They just see bits and pieces of who I am through my work. Some people connect to the personal experiences I talk about and others make decisions as to wether or not they agree with my political opinions. Regardless, the guard is down because they are witnessing a vulnerability and that makes the difficult conversations easier to have. Imagery, scale, materiality and color all have an ability to communicate with a viewers emotions that may be closed off in a more direct conversation with a stranger. This kind of interaction is what draws me to being an artist the most.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art focuses on sociopolitical issues. Particularly race, where the idea of race comes from and the resulting implications. I dig through history to uncover stories that show a direct path to where we are today. My work dives into the history of the church, it’s perpetuation of and benefit from racist ideas, and the creation and manipulation of authoritarians systems of power such as science, anthropology and the prison industrial complex to uphold white supremacy. Many of my life experiences have been dictated by the color of my skin. I dealt with a lot of racism in my life and the longer I live the more I experience it. For a long time my work focused on other oppressed communities which is something I attribute to never having mentors that could relate to my experiences and encourage me to explore them. For me the roles were sort of reversed in that it was really my students who brought my true self outing the open. Once I started teaching I was working with students from many different backgrounds. That’s when I started to understand the importance of representation in the classroom and the negative impact that the lack of representation in my classrooms had on me as a student. It really instilled in me a desire to learn about who I am, where I come from and why there is a lack of representation in the first place. Some of the answers are obvious, but I want to do a deeper dive into history and culture and that’s what my work is about. I’m not sure what sets me apart as an artist. I’m not totally sure I want to be set apart. I’m more interested in community. I guess my hope is that my work is adding a needed voice to an important conversation already being had by many.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ha! I’m a hermit. I spend most of my time at home with my wife and dog. That said there would definitely be a lot fo hiking. Mt. Lemmon, Sabino Canyon, Gates pass, Tanque Verder Falls etc. Food – 4seasons Thai, Zemam’s, Zayna’s, Tumerico There’s some cool things to do around Tucson that don’t involve food and hiking though. Kit peak observatory, the Desert Museum, Tucson Botanical Garden, Biosphere 2, Laughs Comedy Club, lots of good bars. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are a lot of people I could shoutout who have helped me along the way… Of course my parents are at the top of the list. They are probably the two most supportive, caring and open minded people on the planet and I owe a great deal of who I am to them. My graduate school mentor, Michael Barnes, is high on that list too. He really gave a lot fo his time to us grads. He taught me a lot about how to be a teacher and mentor myself and pushed my work in ways that really have impacted my life ever since.
Portrait photo – Kyle Mittan/University of Arizona Artwork photos – Tamrin Ingram