Meet New NYFA Board Member: Elia Alba
“Feed your mind. Read as many books, go to lectures, films, this has incredible impact on your practice and allows for a better understanding of its place in the world.”
Here at NYFA we are lucky enough to have a variety of different artists and arts advocates working behind the scenes at all levels of our organization. From business professionals to contemporary artists, the NYFA community is made up of a diverse group of people from a multitude of backgrounds all working to support our mission. In continuing with our ongoing look at those who are helping to shape our organization, this post will focus on one of these passionate arts advocates, artist, NYFA Fellow (‘01, ‘08) and new NYFA Board Member, Elia Alba.
Elia Alba was born in Brooklyn, NY, 1962. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1994 and completed the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 2001. Her work has been exhibited at El Museo del Barrio; The RISD Museum; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Science Museum, London; ITAU Cultural Institute, Sao Paolo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid and 10th Havana Biennial. Awards have included Studio Museum in Harlem Artist-in Residence Program (1999), New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (Crafts 2002 and Photography 2008), Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2002), Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2002 and 2008), LMCC Workspace Program (2009), Flying Horse Editions (2011), Recess (2014), and The 8th Floor (2015). She is currently working on two books to be published by Photology in Italy; one on Larry Levan and DJ culture and The Supper Club, a project that brings together over 50 artists of color through photography and dialogue. She lives and works in Queens, NY.
NYFA: What advice do you have for emerging artists?
Elia Alba: There are four things. First, art requires time. The desire to be “successful” sometimes overshadows this. Having a gallery, museums shows, recognition are great goals, but the focus after graduate school should be to build a strong body of work that becomes your signature. Second, feed your mind. Read as many books, go to lectures, films, this has incredible impact on your practice and allows for a better understanding of its place in the world. Third, don’t be afraid to be a “working” artist. As a working artist and a mother too, I have learned to structure my time along with having the resources to take care of my family and create work when grants did not come through. For me not having to worry about the day to day, allowed for a much more productive studio practice. Lastly, know that you are in it for the long haul. Too many times I have seen artists stop “being artists” because of family, jobs, age. Maybe you need to take a break and that’s ok. I knew an artist who stopped making work for 7 years in order to take care of his family. He never stopped considering himself an artist. While he didn’t create work, he fed his artistic mind through his family life and what I mentioned above. Being an artist is a lifetime journey.
NYFA: Can you tell us about a project you are currently working on?
EA: I am currently working on a publication, event series titled The Supper Club. This multi-faceted art project brings together over 50 contemporary artists of color through portraiture and dialogue. Inspired by Vanity Fair Magazine’s annual “Hollywood Issue,” which showcases Hollywood’s biggest movie stars of that year, I set out to photograph over 50 contemporary artists of color in individual portraits. The photographs frame the artists as celebrities and transform their identities into iconic, fantastical images. In addition to the portraits, I partnered with two different arts organizations in New York City – Recess Art and The Rubin Foundation – to create a series of dinners in which these contemporary artists of color could lay down their burdens and engage in meaningful conversation about art, life, pop culture, politics and race. While the portraits create visual meaning – and in their own way seek to correct the overwhelming whitewashing of American culture in media such as Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue – the dinners are where the actual lived experiences of these artists of color can come to the forefront and be transformed into meaningful social and cultural criticism. Each dinner is audiotaped and transcribed, and will become a story within the larger narrative of The Supper Club book.
NYFA: What made you decide to join the NYFA board?
EA: NYFA was one of the first grants I ever received. It really validated for me who I was as an artist and I know this to be the case for other artists as well. The myriad of ways that NYFA supports artists is incredible. From fiscal sponsorship, to grants, to mentoring, to working abroad and other states in the country, NYFA really is an organization that helps artists at all levels of their careers. For me all this is so important, and I wanted to be part of these endeavors and help NYFA find ways to continue to strengthen their programs as well as give back to an organization that has been very important to my career.
– Chris Messer, Executive Assistant
Images, from above: Photo courtesy of Elia Alba; Supper Club, The Pulsar, 2014, photo courtesy of Elia Alba; Photo by William Furio, courtesy of The 8th Floor-Rubin Foundation; Supper Club, Body Electric, 2014, photo courtesy of Elia Alba