“Starting with Solidarity” with Gabrielle Tillenburg

March 19, 2024

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A Q&A with curator Gabrielle Tillenburg, who is co-organizing our upcoming program, Currency: An Exchange of Artist Solidarity, on Thursday March 21 at Mt. Pleasant Library with artist Danielle De Jesus.


What brought the two of you together?

I was aware of Danielle’s work from my interest in Puerto Rican and Diaspora artists. We hadn’t spoken prior to this fall, but after her solo show in London was cancelled due to her stance against the genocide of Palestinians (disussed in this recent profile by Hyperallergic), we began talking about the artworld’s response to Gaza and how we can hold each other in these moments. We connected instantly, and I started to think about how I could use some of my skills, to not only support her in this moment of censorship, but what I can do myself to respond to the situation in Gaza—beyond calling representatives, protesting, and boycotting. This is how we came to the idea of collaborating on an event to discuss how we can collectively act in solidarity with occupied groups of people, like Palestinians, and support one another during a time of censorship.

Danielle De Jesus, Puerto Rican Rosary (2023).

How is this event a response to WPA’s prompt: “Where should we start?” (The quote comes from adrienne maree brown: “With everything we need to do, there is always a starting place within, a starting place between, and a starting place for the collective.”)

Conversing with Danielle really demonstrated our answer to this question: “with solidarity.” If we can look at this as a microscopic moment of solidarity, we wanted to imagine the macroscopic—what it might look like to build solidarity as a foundation for the global collective. This event could be conceived as the in-between; but if our small moment leads to the DC community sharing in solidarity, we hope that this event generates even further ripple effects.

What about this event most excites you and what can people expect?

I’m a nerd — so I can’t lie, I’m excited to share some fascinating history surrounding radical actions taken by Puerto Rican artists to protest violence and oppression in Puerto Rico and other occupied spaces around the world. But I’m most excited to speak with Danielle and foster connections between folks. Speaking with her, you can hear how she is filled with so much love for others and I’m looking forward to coming away from the event having that feeling of collective embrace that helps fuel our commitment to speak out. I hope people can expect that as well.

Eric Rivera Barbeito, $753,000,000,000.00, 2021 from Sound of Fire curated by Gabrielle Tillenburg at VisArts.

What is your curatorial research about, and how does it inform this event?

My curatorial and art historical research overlaps quite a bit. I recently curated an exhibition at VisArts called Sound of Fire that included artists (many of them Puerto Rican) who have made work responding to militarization. My dissertation (in its early stages) is about artists who have made work responding to the US occupation of islands such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Okinawa, Hawai’i, and Guam. I was inspired to come to this dissertation topic after reading about how Okinawan organizers visited the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico to learn about the successful protest tactics used to force the US to halt military use of Vieques and how they might apply those same strategies in Okinawa. Artists were crucially involved in the multi-year movement in Vieques, as were Puerto Ricans of the diaspora in New York where some marched in solidarity with Palestinians, calling attention to the fact that US bombs tested in Vieques would eventually be dropped on Palestine. My knowledge of artist involvement in anti-occupation movements helped to inform this event.

Is there anything else you have coming up or news that you’d like to share?

Danielle has artwork in an exhibition opening later this month called The Garden of Forking Paths at Calderon International in New York. I encourage anyone in New York to go see it! She also recently completed a mural at her alma mater, the Yale School of Art, which will be revealed soon.

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