We have featured and interviewed Amanda Elizabeth Joseph multiple times, and for good reason. Her hyperreal figures are as honest as they caricatures and her interview responses are intelligent and well poignant. We are honored to be bringing one of her pieces to the Empty Kingdom Summer Show. Check out the interview:
What is the genesis and meaning of your handle: Shebeingbrand?
I chose that particular handle around 8 years ago when I signed up for my first Gmail account. At the time I was a fan of the poem “she being Brand” by ee cummings and I went with it.
How long have you been a graduate student at Notre Dame? How has your work as well as your theory evolved during your time?
I graduated in May of last year, after completing the three year program. When I first arrived at Notre Dame, I was fresh out of undergrad where I studied graphic design. There wasn’t much focus on the conceptual aspects of the paintings I was making at that time, so a lot of my time in grad school was spent exploring and articulating my ideas. Initially, it was basically reverse engineering, so I would make a painting and then try to figure out the motivations behind it. Thank goodness for all the faculty I was fortunate enough to work with; they made all the difference.
The program required students to continue taking art history in addition to our graduate seminars so there was a lot of emphasis on studying contemporary critical theory. Gender, the body, and the gaze are always at play in my work. The content is grounded in sociology and cultural areas of study, so I spent a good deal of time reading and researching books and articles from scholars in those fields. I was able to enlist a social psychologist from a neighboring university for my thesis committee, and she was instrumental in directing and helping me to better understand the themes from a more objective standpoint.
While there is still the same attention to detail and emphasis on skin, hair and texture, “Deep Fried; County Pride” could almost be called a departure from the subject matter of your other work in that it is far less as you put it “white trash”. Would you consider that statement fair? Or honest? What do you think sets the piece apart from your other works?
That’s a fair assessment. Over the last few years, I’ve been making small series in which all the pieces use the same model, almost like different stills from a scene in a film. The woman in “Deep Fried; County Pride” is the same model used in other pieces such as “Bologna Tits,” and “‘Merica (Love Letter to Randy Lane),” and when you see the pieces in the context of one another, there are visual clues that tie them together. “Deep Fried; County Pride” features the same red polka dot bikini, plaid flannel shirt, cheap rings and bleach blonde hair with dark roots that the other pieces have, and yet it depicts the subject in a prettier, less crass manner. It’s a function of my desire to explore stereotypes of “white trash” yet also humanize the subjects at the same time. The braiding of the hair in “Deep Fried” is a somewhat intimate action; we joke about girls getting together to braid their hair and talk about boys. She becomes a person and not just a set of breasts or a crotch shot as seen in other pieces in the series where I fragment the body.
You’ve spoken about how our entire stories are written on our skin, do you think those stories can be rewritten? Do you think your subjects would have their stories rewritten if they were given the chance?
I think for the most part, our personal narratives are always subject to being rewritten or altered at least slightly. That’s simply a function of memory, and as we gain distance from different events in our lives, we are sometimes able to recall and perceive different elements of the story in a new light. In terms of rewriting the stories on the skin itself, I suppose plastic surgery could erase certain physical remnants, tattoos could be removed or covered, and altering a lifestyle could undo or remedy some of the damages.
With regard to my subjects, I think it depends. I’m interested in depicting the women from different perspectives; some might adopt an attitude of pride and embrace the cards they’re dealt, others might internalize it as a disadvantage. Though there is an umbrella social theme that I try to apply to my work, it’s just as much about how those larger cultural circumstances are inscribed on the individual. One study I read focused on low class women who had either married into the middle or upper class or advanced there based on their own merits. The author found that even though their circumstances had changed, the women still felt that their previous status was permanently a part of their identity and psyche. It resonated with me on a personal level, having at one point in my life lived in a trailer in rural Ohio. As I grew up and tried to move on, it became apparent that aspects of that lifestyle had affected my self-perception as well as how I anticipated others’s assessment of me. I try to give form to that notion in my work; it’s a balance between external aspects that codify our identities, but also the psychological effects.
Speaking of stories, many artists find their stride in a particular aesthetic and stick to it their entire lives, they mature it and develop it but never stray too far from the initial. Do your current aesthetic as something you could continue to develop for years? Are there other ways you want to develop?
The way I draw and paint is something that has developed over the years and I expect to continue to evolve slowly, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever totally depart from it. It’s a bit rough admitting that the way I exaggerate the skin and figures in my work is a reflection of how I tend to see myself, yet it’s a driving force for why the art I make will likely always have a similar style. I’d like to continue to push and explore the role of composition in my drawings and paintings. It seems fairly natural to look at the work of other artists and fantasize about what it would be like to have their style and aesthetic. However, at the end of the day, it’s important to embrace what comes out of you instead of aspiring to make someone else’s work.
What social issues are important to you? What societal issues or questions do you think your work addresses? What responses do you want to elicit from your viewers outside of the realm of social issues?
To be honest, it took a really amazing group of women that I studied with in grad school to help me realize I’m a feminist. Prior to that I had shied away from identifying as one based on negative stereotypes and misinformed preconceived notions. Social issues that are starting to be more widely discussed such as misogyny and rape culture as well as equality for those who identify outside of the dominant gender binary are important to me. The wishful thinker in me feels like that girl in Mean Girls that says, “I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school… I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy…”
My work addresses class, race, and gender through a very specific lens; it is one of countless entry points into the conversation of how these things influence our social hierarchy. A television show like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is one pretty telling depiction of how we Americans deal with notions of class and taste. Some viewers may watch the show because they find the family dynamics and lack of refinement endearing, others may find their lifestyle and behavior revulsive. There’s a certain cultural fascination with the low-class, redneck archetype, and the relationship with it is complicated. Aside from those concerns, I hope to elicit conflicting emotions that allow the viewer to identify with the humanity in the subjects.
How do you get around? Do you bike? Do you drive? What about your method of transportation do you enjoy?
For the past year, I’ve been living in a historic neighborhood just south of downtown Columbus. With its brick lined streets and sidewalks and close proximity to downtown, it’s perfect for walking and so I use that as my primary mode of transportation. There’s a great variety of restaurants, bars, shops, bakeries, and parks nearby and even the main branch of the library and art museum are within walking distance. It’s such a pleasure to be able to take the time to appreciate the architecture and landscaping that give this area of the city its charm. I do have a car nicknamed Black Beauty for longer commutes and it comes in handy for road trips to visit friends and family, and, you know, going to the mall.