CMA Stories

“Working with children is returning to play and playfulness as sacred medicine” — 5 Minutes with Artist Katie Cercone

On Thursday, March 18 at 12 PM ET, artist Katie Cercone joins CMA Associate Director of Programming Raquel Du Toit for a virtual artist talk and studio tour streaming live on CMA’s Facebook page.

The following day on Friday, March 19 at 1 PM ET, children are invited to attend Club CMA with Raquel: International Women’s Day, where participants will create a hip-hop cut-out collage to celebrate the women in their lives. Read below to learn more about Katie and click here to learn more about her upcoming artist talk.

MAGO POETA, 2020, 79 x 66.5 in. fabric assemblage

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

Working with children is always so profound. How many times throughout the day does my four-year-old son read my mind without trying! Children remind us of our true powers — they see what is really there and beyond. They have so few filters and blinders as we do in adulthood. For me, a big part of working with children is returning to play and playfulness as sacred medicine. So often as adults, we get stuck in rigid habits of thought and action. Children are wholly in the moment, they are present and open to all possibilities.

Children bring laughter, innocence, and freedom to art that I often find us “professional” artists have lost. Once we decide to make art for a living, we start to take ourselves too seriously — our ego becomes so attached to specific outcomes and measures of success that ultimately come from outside and are out of our control. Meanwhile, we lose the real essence of creativity, which for me, is a healthy mix of passion (drive) and presence (the ability to co-create in the moment without expectations). Kids do this naturally all day.

You have been a pioneer of hip hop yoga since 2011. What makes this yoga practice different from practices found at conventional yoga studios?

As someone who has practiced yoga for over twenty years, hip hop yoga began as an art project or imaginary otherworld in which I could reconcile several problems I perceived in the wellness industry with my absolute adoration of rap stars. In my artist statement, I talk about hip hop yoga as a remedy to the commercialization of both yoga and hip hop. Through my practice, I explore the detrimental ways in which the face of both yoga and popular music culture has become mired in Eurocentric beauty standards, puritanical Christian values, and community-eroding mechanisms of consumer capitalism. Others find that my position as a white queer femme makes a claim to hip hop or yoga problematic, and yet as I understand it these roots run much deeper than fictions of race which only took hold in the ages of patriarchy and colonialism. Since my initial spark of interest in hip hop as medicine set in around 2011, it has been distilled many times over through enriching collaborations around the world. In my Urban Mystery Skool project with UNDAKOVA (Native New Yorker and first generation Hip Hop DJ/MC), we spent many moons co-creating substance free wellness gatherings for hip hop yogis. This is around the time when my immersive installations become experimental spaces for ritual play … hip hop yogis blending spiritual practice with Indigenous intuited herstories, where the rap cypher and Hindu kirtan collide (“mother tongues” based on the power of call and response or “word to the Mother.”)

As a hybrid, socially-engaged practice, I aim to create experimental space for breathwork, mantra, movement and freestyle rhyme as a sacred arts practice. That being said, it’s very much a work in progress and I also teach Hatha-Vinyasa yoga in studios and on Zoom. With yoga itself being such a broad field of wisdom, and the average student expecting a quick one hour routine to get their yoga buzz on, if you come to one of my yoga classes you won’t necessarily be rapping or hear me talking about the the ecstatic roots of religion, despite how this all beautifully interweaves for me in my philosophies about hip hop yoga and years of research into matrifocal wisdom and the nature-based societies of the ancients. We start with simply remembering how to breathe. Although it’s never quite one thing or the other … hip hop yoga as I have experienced it is actually very playful and collaborative … it draws us out of our shell and opens us up to a more spontaneous waking experience.

Milky Minnie MC2, 2019, 97 x 52 in. fabric assemblage 

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Think longevity over celebrity. Our culture loves to chew everyone up and spit them back out, especially for women. Art is rarely the source of a stable income and you will most likely have to persevere against great odds to keep making art. What legacy do you want to leave? Although the glimmer of the commercial art world beckons, often artists who get a gallery too young end up being overly influenced by their gallerists and collectors. Know yourself first and know what your purpose is before you follow the money trail. Best advice is be willing to fail and fail again! It’s easier said than done but with anything, real artistry must flow from an endless fountain of inner desire. Art practice is an ebb and flow … don’t expect endless productivity, practice self-care, and catch the wave! The art makes you, and not the other way around. Artists aren’t here to win friends, gain approval, or serve the status quo. Being true to yourself may be difficult at times but this is where our greatest power often lies — as a cultural outsider looking in. Loosen your expectations of how it should go and just flow. Trust the process. At the same time, be willing to understand your role and your value and challenge a system that undervalues creativity. Be willing to know and ask for what you are worth — your time, energy and ideas all have value.

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

Now that I am a seasoned performance artist I can look back and laugh at the regular occurrence of “shows” I put on for my parents. My sister and I dressed up in absurdly fabulous outfits (she became a professional costume designer) and because I was older I was always the director. We danced a lot and acted out various scenes. My brother often accused me of getting lost mid-scene watching myself perform in the mirror reflection of a big sliding glass window adjacent to the living room. Having gone through such a heavy period of self-loathing and a battle with disordered-eating later as a teen, I look back as an adult with wonder and appreciation for how naturally I loved and appreciated my body and its beauty before culture imprinted upon me all these feelings of shame that fed patterns of dysmorphia. As I became older I even started to film these performances on the family camcorder and made some stop-animation videos with my dolls.

Octopussy2015, 64 x 53 x 2 in. fabric assemblage, part of SOLARA Saturnalia (Kawaii Kali Redux) 7:06 min video starring Alees Yvon & the Black Diamond Ganguro GAL Unit, shot in Tokyo, Japan

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

The myths of high / low culture that initiated terms like “fine art” only serve to protect the value of art as a commodity, or an obscure luxury item for the uber rich. My research into matrifocal traditions and folk arts like hip hop and yoga often makes me feel much more aligned with notions of “craft” than “fine art,” and yet here I am in the hyper-capitalist center of the art world, hoping to one day be financially-free as an agent of my own creativity! Making art accessible is essential, given how the true lifeblood of art is community. Without a cohesive sense of community art dies. Without this container of shared experience — alive with play, dialogue, communication, movement and magic — art is nothing but a commodity in a vacuum sealed vault. Even while as professional artists we must align in many ways with the institutions of art — art history, art academia, art museums and galleries — at the same time we must never lose sight of the magic that lives on the tongue of every four-year old playing make believe. We must remember we are always students of art, not it’s teacher, and that our children are our elders in universe time.

If you could choose any artist to create a portrait of yourself, who would it be and why?

One artist I have always admired is Mickalene Thomas. I am not so sure I fit the bill in terms of being one of her subjects, but if I had to choose, I would go for that floor to ceiling sequin portrait by Mickalene.

View more of Katie’s work at katiecercone.com and follow along at @0r__nah_spiriturlgangsta

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