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The Los Angeles–based artist Mark Bradford will represent the U.S. at the 57th Venice Biennale. Known for his practice exposing conflict and adding to the conversation with aid and support, Bradford is a realistic and deliberate creator. He has been the recipient of awards like the Whitney Museum Bucksbaum Award and the prestigious MacArthur grant. His work has previously focused on an array of underground social issues—such as the appropriation of abandoned spaces, unprincipled leaders and economies, and vagrant communities. “We’re all grappling with that sense of vulnerability, and a sense that possibly our voices are no longer being heard, or that it’s becoming more difficult. But our voices are needed in the mainstream. I’m not saying I’m excited about this time, but it is familiar,” he told Whitewaller.
This year, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University will present Bradford’s “Tomorrow Is Another Day” for the U.S. Pavilion. New work is on view alongside existing work, curated by BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis, director Christopher Bedford, and senior programming and research curator Katy Siegel. In it, the artist is highlighting a relatively recent at-need discovery for him in Venice—the Rio Terà dei Pensieri. The social cooperative is full of incarcerated adults who want to provide for a healthy future beyond the correctional facility that they’re currently confined in.
“When I was thinking about Venice, I started wandering about like I do. I usually go to a place and disappear from the art world. Eventually, I came upon something that I was very interested in,” said Bradford. “What I didn’t want is for it to be was an exotic ‘Let’s go see Mark Bradford’s intervention for the running of the biennial.’ No. It is human when I’m working with [these women]. Venice likes to cover up all of the ugly stuff … There’s nothing wrong at looking at something a little bit more urgent and difficult. I wanted to stand on both of my legs when going to Venice. I knew I wasn’t comfortable with just doing the pavilion. I just wasn’t.”
Bradford is embarking on a six-year collaboration with the social cooperative that provides employment opportunities to incarcerated adults through the creation of artisanal goods and other products. He has committed himself to supporting Rio Terà and its programs, which aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners back into society. Men and women prisoners create handbags, tote bags, and cosmetics, among other handmade goods, which are sold to the community. The profits go directly back to Rio Terà to help expand and sustain the cooperative for years to come. A storefront for community engagement and sales opened its doors in April, and it is the initial manifestation of Bradford’s work with Rio Terà.
“My hope is that after six years, they make so much money that they can just keep it—keep the store. Sell more, make more money, and allow people to be more aware of this as a model,” said Bradford. “As they integrate themselves back into society from the prison system, there will be a safe space for them.”