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  • Jillian Marie Browning

Catching Up with Artist Jillian Marie Browning



THE ROOT, 2022 Cyanotype on cotton


Jillian Marie Browning was a visiting artist at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art in Tuscumbia, AL. I had the misfortune of missing the exhibit opening and her/their talk. However, the next week, I was front and center with one of the most impressive exhibits of my art observation. I felt my daughter, my mama, and all contemporary Black women in their interdisciplinary work, and I knew I had to share my experience with Garden Spices. I started by catching up with what I missed at the gallery, chatting with them. Gate open! - Victorine



 


Jillian Marie Browning


 

Growing Up Black in Ocala


Jillian Browning is from the rural town of Ocala, Florida. Browning noted that when people think of Florida, they envision vacationing and the notion that Florida is not necessarily in the South. They clarified that Ocala was not within the small percentage of "Sun Beach" Florida. Browning grew up with "cows, horses, and racism." Browning noted, "I'm from north-central Florida with very active KKK members in legislation."


Browning's experience of growing up in the South was much like that of all Black children. Their parents taught them to be aware of their race and to understand circumstances that "were not always the best," Browning attested that growing up in the early 2000s "wasn't super terrible," but they heard stories about their grandfather being stopped by KKK members for taking a walk in his neighborhood. Browning reflected, "My mom told the story of how her dad almost got in a fight because she took a drink out of a "white" water fountain." These stories enabled Browning to understand the South fully. "My experience forms so much of my art, who I am, and my personality."


The Effect of Legislative Policies in Florida


Currently, Browning resides in Birmingham, Alabama, and is an Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB). They note that much of the proposed legislature for Alabama has passed in Florida, and the state is facing lawsuits. College classes are being censored, and teachers can lose their jobs or jeopardize their tenure status. Browning notes, "I have friends in academia that literally left their jobs and moved out of Florida." They indicated that "many of the proposed legislative bills in Alabama have already passed in Florida." This censorship is a concern Browning has with their work. "I don't censor myself. My students know the kind of work I do, and I talk about other artists who do work like this (drawing from life experiences.)"


Teaching at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB)


Browning honors the demographics of their UAB Photography classes, which include students of color. They reflected that in their four years of art school, they "were not introduced to one photographer that looked like them." They intend to be very transparent, introducing artists of color whose perspectives are drawn from the artists' backgrounds. They contend the desire to "be a good teacher." They caution that with the passing of the censoring bill in AL, someone can walk into their classroom and fire them for discussing the perspective and influences of artists of color, or they may be prevented from getting tenure. Browning fears, "I am concerned for my future here."


Browning identifies as she/they and is an interdisciplinary art activist and feminist. UAB has been open-minded and has not prevented them from being authentic. Browning indicates, "I would not have taken the position if I could not be me." They say they have no limitations. "(Respectfully), I get to do what I want." Browning also notes that she would only have taken the job with this freedom of expression. Presently, their teaching experience has been "wonderful."


Photography/Cyanotype


As an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida, Browning studied and worked only in commercial photography. They were almost ready to quit school when they discovered mediums in which they could have more of a hands-on experience creating images. They applied to Graduate School to further their studies and explore new techniques. Gaining entrance, they continued learning more about using photography to do other art forms. "In 2018, I was exploring different mediums I could use, and I remembered cyanotype. "


Cyanotype is a camera-less photographic process, coat paper or fabric with a light-sensitive emulsion and steps that result in cyan blue print. Browning explained that botanists primarily used cyanotype in science in the 19th century. In their art talks, Browning references her work to the use of photography in science and how scientific experiments have been carried out on Black bodies, resulting in our contribution to contemporary medicine. Their work is exclusively on cotton, relating to their experience growing up as a Black body in the South.


The first cyanotype project Browning created was a matriarchal hairline portrait of women family members using their hair. Browning learned how to exact an easier process for cyanotype to print photography on fabric, which allowed them to create large-scale work favorable to them.


Browning notes, "It's a process I enjoy doing, but also I am combining these processes into a larger artist statement like why I continue to use (cyanotype), the relevancy in this body of work." Browning hopes to explore cyanotype for new implementation but notes that if the Ancestors take them to a new process, they are open to it.


 




2018

cyanotype on cotton fabric in wooden embroidery hoops (various sizes)

Referencing the botanical studies of Anna Atkins, “Matriarchal Line” is a series of cyanotypes of the hair of myself, my sisters, and my mother. Using domestic materials such as cotton fabric and embroidery hoops, I reference traditional “acceptable” forms of women’s artistry while exploring the physical depiction of the hair prints in a round state resembling DNA strands through a microscope. This work acts as a portrait of the women in my family and our connection as well as comments on the value placed on the texture and length of black women’s hair in society.


 



2021

cyanotype on cotton fabric

rel·a·tive

: a thing having a relation to or connection with or necessary dependence on another thing

: a person connected with another by blood or affinity.

In this series, I reflect on the idea that when I was being formed in the uterus of my mother, my body was also creating my reproductive organs, which were forming my ovum. As my fetal cells were dividing and replicating, her chromosomes were copied into the fiber of my DNA. In turn, when my mother was developing inside her mother, her body was also forming her ovum - one that would eventually become me. Forming a connection from grandmother, mother, and child many years before I would ever be conceived. These works explore the connection between motherhood, nature, and light. 


 

Performance/Demonstration Art


Browning does Performance Art, and one piece they exhibit is a video of her/them painting the Confederate flag black. "It is my most controversial Facebook piece," explains Browning, "and I've received a lot of hate mail." They have exhibited it in print and video in other venues." Browning notes, "I grew up in Florida, and the rebel flag is everywhere."They note, "I don't see rebel flags nearly as much in Birmingham."


Browning does another video showing the "intimate ritual" of wrapping their body, referencing what it meant to be a teenager growing up with the scrutiny of a body unacceptable to society. Browning and friends experienced body wrapping.


Unity


When asked how they define unity, Browning identifies unity as support - how people connect and support others. "People want to have a sense of community in society." Browning notes, "I always affect support in my classroom - reach out to students. Support is really important to me."


When asked about selling their work, Browning sets their intention to share their work through exhibition and discussion. They pointed out that they receive payment for teaching; they do art as their passion and to "have folks experience it." Browning's work supports the creative universe in an impactful way.




painting the rebel flag black


 

suck it in, wrap it up





 





Jillian Marie Browning (she/they) is an interdisciplinary artist pursuing themes of feminism, identity, and the contemporary black experience. Born in Ocala, Florida they received a Bachelor of Science degree in Photography from the University of Central Florida in 2012 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art from Florida State University in 2015. They have had their work shown nationally as well as been included in the permanent collection of the Center for Photography at Woodstock, The Southeast Museum of Photography, and the University of Maryland’s David C. Driskell Center For The Study of Visual Arts and Culture Of African Americans and the African Diaspora. They enjoys puppies, comic books, the color pink, and radical feminism. They currently serve as Assistant Professor of Photography at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.




 





Written by

Victorine,

Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Garden Spices Magazine








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