Daveed Baptiste is a multidisciplinary maker working in fashion design, photography, and textiles. His migration from Haiti to Miami inspires most of his work. As an immigrant and queer person, his work examines the multidimensional identities of the Caribbean diaspora living in the United States. We chatted with him about his new work and his experience at the Silver Arts Program.
HOW WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE SILVER ARTS PROGRAM?
I got an email about it, and it just felt like it was something for me, so I applied. When I got the news, my friend Carlos and I were driving from Staten Island. Silver Arts called me, and they were like “Hey, you got the residency,” and I was ecstatic. That shit made my summer.
HOW HAS WORKING AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER INFLUENCED YOUR ART & CREATIVITY?
Being in this neighborhood is interesting because you’re around all these suits. And here I am making work about black folks. I think what’s been super helpful and nice, is that everyone who’s helped me on my journey, I’ve been able to bring into this space. I’ve worked with so many folks. Whether it’s modeling for me for free, or pulling a favor for me, or letting me borrow equipment, people have really believed in me, and it feels really good to bring them up here. People could work their whole lives in New York and never get this. This is what you get on some Wolf of Wall Street shit. To have this space as an artist? Crazy.
DO YOU EVER FEEL IMPOSTER SYNDROME WALKING INTO THE BUILDING?
No, I love it. It’s such a flex, I’m not gonna lie. I love walking in here. There’s days where I’m working and my outfit’s giving bum. And they’re looking at me like… and I’m looking at them like… and I scan my keycard for our private floor and go about my business.
YOUR FIRST CLAIM-TO-FAME WAS HAITI TO HOOD. HOW HAS THAT PROJECT IMPACTED YOUR WORK?
I’m exploring the same themes in this work that I did in Haiti to Hood. There’s a part of me that’s so over the project [Haiti to Hood] because I’ve worked on it for so long. I started Haiti to Hood in the summer of 2017. I was studying Fashion Design at Parsons and during breaks, I was working on Haiti to Hood too. So, I was designing during the school year, and I was doing photography in the little breaks that I got. What I loved about photography in that moment, and still now, is I felt like I was able to bring a lot of my design thinking and process into the photographic works, and that’s because I was building sets.
When I’m building sets, I build them in the same way that a material designer or a color designer builds materials and colors for a product or for shoes. I’m looking at the textures, I’m looking at the colors, and I’m looking at how they pair up together, but I’m looking at these things in a spatial way, almost like an interior designer.
WHO IS YOUR PRIMARY AUDIENCE?
I’m speaking to black people. I’m speaking to folks from the Caribbean. I’m speaking to people who’ve grown up in North Miami. I’m speaking to the diaspora. And so when I’m making those decisions, that’s the world I’m coming from. I’m drawing from growing up all across North Miami.
I’ve grown up in the hoods of Miami, which to me are very special places. There’s no place like North Miami. It’s not as southern as Georgia or Texas. It’s different. It’s still a warm tropical place. There’s still this beach energy that’s laid back, almost Caribbean, in Miami. I’m pulling from those experiences of growing up in the 305, of being an immigrant. And that translates into texture, into color, and into the people I put in the work.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I’m exploring that intersection between design, textile design, material design, color, print, and photography. I feel like, for me, these aren’t the most gorgeous prints in the world, but they are beautiful images. I’m still trying to understand how this texture and material can work. This was done by a dude who transfers images on T-shirts. So, I was like, “Can we print my photographs and transfer them onto gingham?” Gingham is a big part of my work. It’s a big part of Caribbean culture. It’s remnants from colonial rule both by the French and the English. But, you know, black folks are gonna make it our own. So I bring it into my work. I feel like for me, I use gingham as a bridge between America and the Caribbean. To me, it’s also very American. I think of Madman and sixties picnic vibes. But if you show this to my mother, she’ll think about school in Haiti.
When you look at artists from across the diaspora, there’s something that ties us together. There’s certain themes, colors, flamboyancy. The way that we want to capture black people, the way that we want to portray black life, black rhythm, black spirituality. We do that across Africa, across South America, and across the Caribbean. I could look at an artist’s work, who comes from a completely different background but they’re still African, and I feel it.
I think a lot of artists like to think of their practice as something spiritual. Like when you’re in that moment, with your work, there’s something that’s a little beyond you that’s helping you create. Don’t get me wrong, I went to design school – there’s logic in what I’m doing, but there’s a place that I enter when I’m making this work. And there’s also the people who are attracted to the work and the people who I bring into the work. And the spaces that we create together, I feel like are at times spiritual.
Studio shots from photographer Spencer Stovell. Model Jacob Moss.
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