Briefly describe the work you do.
My work explores culture, identity and social justice in various media: sculpture, photography, video, installation and writing. It consistently bridges diverse cultures, celebrating the unique beauty and genius of each as well as what we have in common. Cultural preservation is important to my work. My research takes the form of immersive field work and annual visits to Mali provide inspiration. My social consciousness and my deep and continuing interest in African art and culture also fuel my work.
Long-term collaborations, particularly with Malian artists, are clearly in the realm of social art practice. They are all, at the same time, researcher and object of research producing dialogues and concrete works of art. My many community projects internationally and in the US include participation with diverse groups of artists and non-artists.
My life experiences play an integral part in the development of my work. A master welder, I work in three dimensions as well as on paper, on the floor, on walls, and suspended from the ceiling, indoors and outdoors. her installations include steel sculptures, video, photography and sound. My work combines poetry, patterns, forms and African themes that engage in social discourse.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Born to a family of political activists, I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, fully immersed in the social and political issues of the tumultuous 1960’s. The evolution of my artistic practice traces my enduring exploration of sculptural form, my ongoing relationship with African culture, and my lifelong involvement in political activism. My life experiences have played an integral part in the development of my work, and have allowed my oeuvre to carry on a unique cohesion where themes recur and overlap, appear and disappear, then reappear in altered form.
It participated in The Experiment in International Living Program in 1973 and spent nearly a year in West Africa, igniting my life-long connection with the continent and particularly West Africa. The heart of my journey was Mali. I returned to West Africa as a Fulbright fellow in 1994-95, working in Mali with potters, metalsmiths, and contemporary artists. During my concentrated eight months of research, my many African experiences began to coalesce and emerge in my work. As a result of these experiences, I combine Western and non-Western images and ideas, issues of cultural identity, and responses to my own layered American cultural identity.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I think of the space where I weld as my artist studio because it is a specialized, dedicated space. I only weld there. I also have a studio in my home where I work on digital photography, video, writing and where I store and display finished work. This is more interwoven with the rest of my life.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
My annual trips to Mali and my projects there are an intrgral part of my artistic practice. I do research there which inspires my work and my life. This includes mentoring and being mentored, teaching and learning,
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I work everyday, all the time. I may not be fabricating sculpture or installations but making art is a way of life, a creative way of living. The tought process is ongoing and always growing and deepening.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I have been making welded steel sculptures since the late 1980’s. Recently I have worked on installations that combine the sculptures with photography and video. The photography and video tends to be documentary and the sculptures are more abstracted. Since they are inspired by the same sources, they expand each other. The themes are the similiar across my work but change and deepen with time.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My closest relationship in Mali has been with members of the Groupe Bogolan Kasobane, a group of six artists who have been working together for about 35 years. Members of the Groupe and I met in 1994 during the first month of my Fulbright research. Kasobane is my Malian family and most of my projects in Mali have involved members of the Groupe.
Some factors that make our collaboration work include Kasobane’s skill at collaboration thru 35 years of work as a group and the Malian value of collectivity, one of the aspects of Malian culture that Kasobane has fought to explore and preserve. The members of Kasobane and I are all about the same age.
My experience of collaboration stems from the American Feminist Art Movement of the ’70’s and ’80’s where collaboration, growing out of consciousness raising, was a way to break down isolation in American culture. We began to work collectively in new ways to engage communities and address social issues. The Feminist Art Movement challenged ideas about authorship, particularly the myth of the solo male artist. The movement pioneered new approaches to group identity through various means such as collaborative performances, women’s co-op galleries, “leaderless” institutions and inclusive artworks.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Born to a family of political activists, Janet Goldner grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, fully immersed in the social and political issues of the tumultuous 1960’s. The evolution of Janet Goldner’s artistic practice traces her enduring exploration of sculptural form, her ongoing relationship with African culture, and her lifelong involvement in political activism.Goldner’s life experiences have played an integral part in the development of her work, and have allowed her oeuvre to carry on a unique cohesion where themes recur and overlap, appear and disappear, then reappear in altered form.
Over thirty years as an active artist, Janet Goldner has shown her work in over twenty solo exhibitions, and over one hundred group exhibitions throughout the United States, as well as in Lithuania, Germany, Italy, Bosnia, Australia, New Zealand, and Mali. Exhibition highlights include Multiple Exposures (2014) and The Global Africa Project (2010-11) at the Museum of Arts and Design, and Women Facing AIDS (1989) at the New Museum as well as Have We Met?, a major installation at Colgate University (2007). Her work is in the permanent collection of the American Embassy in Mali, the city of Segou, Mali and the Islip Museum on Long Island, NY.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, grants, and artist residencies, including a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship and two Fulbright Senior Specialist grants as well as grants from the Ford Foundation, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid.
Her work has been published in many books, journals, magazines, catalogs and news sources. An artist-scholar, Janet Goldner has curated exhibitions, published articles and catalogs, and lectured at conferences, universities, and community venues. Published articles include a chapter in Contemporary African Fashion, Indiana University Press, an essay in Poetics of Cloth, Grey Art Gallery, NYU. She has also conducted sculpture workshops and community art projects in both the United States Mali and Zimbabwe.
Janet participated in The Experiment in International Living Program in 1973 and spent nearly a year in West Africa, igniting her life-long connection with the continent and particularly West Africa. Janet Goldner returned to West Africa as a Fulbright fellow in 1994-95, working in Mali with potters, metalsmiths, and contemporary artists. During her concentrated eight months of research, Janet’s many African experiences began to coalesce and emerge in her work. As a result of these experiences, she combines Western and non-Western images and ideas, issues of cultural identity, and responses to her own layered American cultural identity.
Janet’s work in the US and internationally includes commissions, exhibitions, collaborations, residencies, teaching, community art projects, public art projects, cultural festivals and women’s empowerment projects.
She lives and works in New York City and spends several months every year in Mali.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.