We had the good fortune of connecting with Brannon Rockwell-Charland Cook and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Brannon, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
While in quarantine I read Shay Youngblood’s “Black Girl in Paris,” originally published in 2000. A nuanced, complex, inspiring book. I’m an avid armchair traveler and Rick Steves nerd but I rarely see myself or my experiences reflected in travel books/shows, and Rick Steves is problematic as hell. Youngblood’s text follows a young queer writer who decides to scrape some money together to go to Paris and follow in the footsteps of so many Black creatives before her. Unlike many writings that largely romanticize travel and fetishize notions of difference or being “elsewhere,” Youngblood chronicles moments of beauty and passion while never shying away from the reality of survival, work, and the ambivalence of real-life social interactions. Without being heavy-handed or didactic, she gives us characters and experiences that are unique and also wrapped up in the politics of identity and place and desire, like we all are. I enjoy escaping into books but don’t want to escape into a world of often-unspoken but glaring whiteness — writers like Youngblood and Toni Morrison do the type of world-building that I find both challenging and gratifying to immerse myself in.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an artist working across multiple mediums. I got my BA from Oberlin College and my MFA from UCLA. Growing up, art was normalized to me as a viable career path via my dad, who worked in art academia. This normalization is not always the case for people of color. My proximity to art via my parents and my access to whiteness and white spaces has been a huge source of privilege along my creative and career path. My general mission is to make work that speaks to the diversity of lived experiences of Black femmes. At the same time, as an artist who has learned to navigate mostly-white spaces, I also make work that attempts to directly confront whiteness and the assumptions of the white gaze. When I was in graduate school, I was very invested in having dialogues with white people about race and privilege because I thought creating critical space with white folks would prevent them from shutting down and continuing to ignore white supremacy and white privilege, as if it wasn’t already always operating within their lives and artistic practices. Though I do consider interfacing with white people about race to be part of the work I need to do as a light-skinned person, I’ve since learned that my initial way of doing so via casual, “friendly” dialogue did more to uphold social and institutional anti-Blackness and ensure my continued access to oppressive white spaces than actually change any white minds. I continue to make a range of work for a range of viewers.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite thing to do is to just walk. I especially love residential neighborhoods and am fascinated by the vastly different types of them that exist throughout LA. There is the most bomb vegan taco truck near where I live in Koreatown that pops up on Tuesday & Friday nights called Alchemy Organica. A long walk, some food, and a stop by any given liquor store for a bottle of wine is, to me, the recipe for a lovely time.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
To grandmommy and all the other women whose survival ensured my ability to be here.

Website: http://brannonrockwellcharland.com/ and sugarcaves.xyz

Instagram: @_pastabitch_

Image Credits
Documentation provided by Lex Voight & the artist.

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