Meet a NYFA Artist: Sandra Archer Morris Bell

Meet a NYFA Artist: Sandra Archer Morris Bell

NYFA speaks with 2003 Crafts Fellow Sandra Archer Morris Bell.

NYFA: Hi Sandra, what are some of your recent creations & what are you working on now?

SB: I’ve been working with hundreds of students all over New York City on arts & education projects. In addition, I created The Ndunga Public Art Project, a Congolese masquerade that is brought out when villagers are committing atrocities against each other. It is a warning to straighten up & fly right! It represented healing the dilemma of rape used as a weapon of warfare, violence & discrimination against women all over the world. It was exhibited on the Plaza of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem from September 2009 to July 2010.

Right now, I am developing a new public art project for 2011/2012. [I’m] Seeking & writing for grant money/resources to complete it. I’m also developing a new Kwanzaa symbol. This is more of a commercial effort & the first time I’m creating work without being commissioned.

NYFA: What does an artist mean to you?

SB: An artist to me is partially rooted in the Afrocentric point of view, where art is life and not apart from life. So I see an artist in people who can cook a great meal, the nail technician who can paint a miniature scene on a fingernail & a person who can produce something so perfectly with materials so far away from its original self.

NYFA: Who or what is your biggest influence or inspiration right now?

SB: “Right now ” is a conglomeration of many things I’ve witnessed in the past. As I grow older the idea of art activism is highly inspiring and rememberances (if there is such a word) tugs me in the direction of creating art that is connected to humanitarian efforts.

NYFA: How did you begin working with the materials you use now? Where do you get your materials?

SB: I mimicked the materials & techniques I saw my family use in our creation of carnival costumes in Trinidad. I have taken various workshops/classes that gave me more advanced materials to work with. I used to get my materials from Pearl Paint, now I go to Blick. I get materials from the flower district, some I have to import from the Caribbean or Hawaii, Lowes or Home Deport, Material For The Arts & some arts & crafts companies.

NYFA: Where did you grow up & does that influence your work?

SB: I was born & grew up partially in Trinidad & Tobago, Caribbean. I literally grew up in a “mas camp” (place where carnival costumes are made) where my Uncle Ken Morris (now deceased, & considered a National Treasure in T&T) & the rest of my family lived. In this cul-de-sac, we brought out our carnival bands & made all kinds of art for nationals & foreigners alike. I, along with a few cousins are direct descendents of the artistic blood from our ancestors. We carry on what our ancestors gave us. To say the least, I am highly infected & influenced by that environment.

NYFA: How does symbolism operate in your work, if at all?

SB: I would say yes, the essence of things in is my work. A glimpse of something that would remind you of a place or a particular time.

NYFA: What role(s) do carnival & masquerade play in human experience?

SB: Carnival is the great medicine for insanity & civility. There is no disco, no dancehall, no house party to top being in a carnival band where everybody is all together dancing, moving to the beat of the music. The big sky above, the spectators, is totally intoxicating. Everybody needs a little or a lot of carnival. Masquerade is symbolism come alive. It is an all out bigger than life element to remind us of simple & great things.

NYFA: Do you ever work collaboratively?

SB: Yes, I do. I truly wish I could do more collaborative work & could hire other artists to work with me & vice versa.

NYFA: What is your studio work space like?

SB: When I have to do my super large projects I use large basements, construct temporary studios in large unused spaces, my kitchen, dining room & right now my living room. I joined this lotto pool, maybe just maybe I’ll win some big money & can construct an extension onto the back of my house before I die. I’ve seen this studio in my dreams.

NYFA: What role has the fellowship played in your life?

SB: It played a super size positive role in my life. Every place I work I tell them & everyone is so proud of me. It helped me through a rough period & freed me up a bit to think beyond putting all my earnings into bills. It gave me more credibility & encouraged me to keep going & try new waters. A lot of people want to know “how do you get one of those?”

For more information on Sandra Archer Morris Bell, visit her website.

Amy Aronoff
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