Student Spotlight: Allison Janae Hamilton '17

October 22, 2016

The Student Spotlight series aims to highlight the work of current MFA students, asking them to share thoughts on their practice by answering curated and peer-submitted questions.

Allison Janae Hamilton is a first-year student in the Visual Arts Program.

What themes or subjects are you currently addressing in your work?

Sometimes, I think of my work as a sort of visual epic tale taking place in the rural American south.  In general, but especially right now, I'm thinking about the landscape not as a backdrop to a narrative, but as a protagonist, one that haunts, exposes, and conceals.  In my work, the landscape is as beautiful as it is grotesque and as delicate as it is disturbing.  I'm using these uncanny, characters and surreal scenes and as a jumping off point to think about the social, political, and cultural concerns impacting rural black communities like those where my family is from.  
What materials do you work with?

I work a great deal with taxidermy—full carcasses, horns, claws, antlers, hides, etc.  I also work with metal.  In my installations, I use found objects—linens, religious regalia, and decorative objects typically found in the home.  You'll see all of the above in my photographs and videos too in addition to my sculptures and installations.

What is challenging your practice right now?

Since I make so many of my photographs and videos in the south, I have to really plan out my work schedule in advance.  Right now, I'm making most of my metal sculptures and editing photos/video here in New York, and then I shoot and work in taxidermy when I'm down south.  It mostly works pretty well, but if I'm in New York and I get the urge to go out and make landscapes, I can't just walk outside with my camera and get to work.

What artist or work of art do you find yourself returning to and why?

Definitely James Hampton's "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly," ca. 1950-1964.  I think it comes up from time to time for me because it's so epic in terms of the narrative it depicts and the actual labor involved in it (it took Hampton fourteen years to finish it), but it uses such mundane, everyday materials.  It also reminds me of my upbringing in the southern black church and the intense faith that underscores that tradition.  Even though I'm no longer religious, it's still part of me culturally.   Last year, I literally almost walked right into it at the Smithsonian while I was looking for the exit.  I had no idea it was there.  I would have missed it if it weren't for that wrong turn.  

Your fellow students wonder: What makes you like someone instantly?

I'm not really sure.  It's probably some kind of subconscious, primal thing.  But in general I like people who are kind, and I try to be kind myself.  I keep it simple, and am usually drawn to people who do the same.