Brandon Deener: the hip-hop producer turned Afrofuturist artist
Brandon Deener, former producer for hip-hop and R&B royalty such as Timbaland, Missy Elliot and Lil Wayne, wears the multi-hyphenate badge well. He’s now known more as a visual artist and musician among other titles, dedicated to painting the Black community and carving its people a place in modern history by illustrating both boundless beauty and agency.
It’s been nine years in the making and now Deener is bringing his third solo exhibition, In Unison, to Adam Cohen’s A Hug from the Art World in Manhattan, New York, where the Guardian is introduced to him. Last year, Brandon was behind two solo exhibitions in Los Angeles where he and his studio reside – Children of the Sun, Sol Searchin’ at Simchowitz Gallery in West Hollywood and Inward at the Jac Forbes Gallery in Malibu. With music still guiding his work, Deener also offers The Sound of Unison as his debut to the world as a leading musician and as a formal wedding of his music to his visual art.
Deener credits many of his achievements to a star-studded team who supports him. Managed by Jaha Johnson and mentored by art industry legends and collectors, with particular emphasis on Stefan Simchowitz and Tony Shafrazi, who has partnered with Keith Haring, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Andy Warhol and David LaChapelle, and the estate of Francis Bacon, Deener urges the importance of having a team, stating, “It is as important as the artwork we create.”
Deener defines himself as an Afrofuturist artist. Afrofuturism is a genre rooted in the explicit intersection of science fiction, technology, innovation, and Black and African mysticism and Black history across art, film, literature and music. It is more commonly regarded for its “dystopian” essence from Octavia Butler’s Kindred as genre-defining literature. In the past decade, Afrofuturism has witnessed a swift rise to mainstream films and television with Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s adaptation of Black Panther achieving worldwide success. When asked what it means to contribute to the genre, he says, “It means to manifest and see what you bring into fruition, realizing that higher power … and as a creator not bound by time, I want to look at us as a people of every time – past, present and future.”
Through his painted visions of Black pride as they exist and should continue to exist, Deener realizes that higher power. Black pride is represented through spray-painted, acrylic-painted, and oil stick-applied long necks, large and exaggerated lips, and personified noses. In explaining why he illustrates noses the way he does Deener says: “It’s about self-love … just to show how prominent our features are, and that no matter what color they are, that’s a Black nose, that’s a Black person.” He uses somewhat incomplete dimension-bending backgrounds, hovering classic cars, inventions offering freedom of exploration and discovery. I asked if he was ever worried about his works being criticized or used against him and Black people to reclaim the stereotypes that whiteness has projected through its labor of minstrelsy and colonial history. “No,” he said. “I am very true to being very unapologetically Black in my work. Given the history of Blackness and art and the lack thereof being represented and represented in the work, I have a duty or dedication to depicting us, always.”
The Sound of Unison complements In Unison as its theme music, a timeless body of 10 tracks including familial words of affirmation in Brand New Brandon, loving Yoruba chants in Mo Ni Ife, and pensive pendulums in Ridgeway. The Sound of Unison does its job in bending time and not clinging to one music category, but clinging to undying soul and spirit.
At the opening reception, Deener explained in reference to his artwork, “There is music in the faces.” He listens to 1960s improvisational jazz, preferably sounds and rhythms of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Fela Kuti to inform his style and guide his creative process. He relates the oneness of improvisational jazz musicians playing together to his mixed media approach, trusting his own experimentation.
When asked what it means to contribute to the Afrofuturism genre, Deener states he “had no idea that art was going to happen for me … at all”. The South Memphis native was born into and raised in the church by a spiritually and musically gifted family. Although an only child raised by a single mother, Deener was not alone. Surrounding him was also his uncle, a bishop who plays the drums, and cousins who all can sing. “Everything was all music,” Deener reveals, and so much so that he unintentionally summons the spirit, energy and likeness of his ancestors through his work. “I have depicted ancestors unbeknownst to me. One of the figures in Summoned by Hickory Smoke, the figure driving the car, reminds me of my great-grandad. It looks like him.” This despite him confessing to having only one memory of him. Deener’s genesis as an Afrofuturist artist comes from his past and South Memphis as an anchor, which he left in 2007. He channels the melodies and improvisation of life’s journey for Black people to project an Afrofuturist world.
Despite producing some of hip-hop’s biggest artists, Deener reveals he “… played small, being a fly on the wall and often got overlooked”. After experiencing a stale start to his creative career in Miami, the dream of being an artistwaned and depression sank in. “I used to be a negative thinker, and a lot of this stuff is passed down from generations … We speak negativity on ourselves and repel blessings or postpone them. I was speaking against what I was trying to manifest … I was in search of a relationship with God.”
After much maturation through self-love, meditation, prayer and getting rid of “a problem-based mindset for solution-based mindset” since his music producing days, Deener refuses to “hide his blessings” and shares his God-given talent with the world through his artwork and music. In a humorous outburst he shares, “I once cleaned the toilets! I went from cleaning the toilets in Timbaland’s studio in Virginia to now Timbaland owning my work.” Timbaland does not just own one of Brandon’s works; he owns four of them.
Arts in the Garden brings a visual feast to the North Shore
Ask any creative what qualifies as art and they will tell you that art is multifaceted, spanning everything from music and performance to paintings, sculpture, sketch and – to some especially green-thumbed creatives – a meticulously curated garden.
This weekend gardens across the North Shore celebrated all things aesthetically pleasing for Arts in the Garden, a community event that fuses all facets of artistic creation by putting together visual artists, musicians and live performers in the same space.
The annual event, presented by North Van Arts, comprised 13 blooming gardens that traversed themes from ‘engaging’ – a garden with thought-provoking artwork and an active garden with bubbling ponds – to ‘connected’ – another filled with interconnected, meandering trails and musicians who sang on the on the healing power of trees.
“This natural environment lends itself so well to art. Galleries are very restrictive, you’re in a very sterile environment, but this inspires creativity, more authentic conversation,” said Garrett Andrew Chong, a photographer whose images had poked out from flourishing flower beds in a garden on West Vancouver’s Marine Drive.
For the artists participating, the event gave them the opportunity to get out of the stuffy confines of gallery and workspace, and allowed their wares to be viewed and appreciated by a wider audience.
“This is a really, really nice opportunity, this is a very different demographic to where I live, a much different crowd, and it means I can showcase all the different things that I work on,” said artist Emily Picard, an artist from the Sunshine Coast.
Like many of the artists participating, Picard’s creations complemented the space it inhabited. The eclectic nature of her work – Picard’s mediums span acrylic paint, spray paint, watercolour and marker pens – slotted in seamlessly to a garden that was anything but minimalistic.
Aptly categorised under “Ethereal” the North Vancouver garden, number 7 on the tour, had been like a scene from Alice’s Wonderland, complete with chandeliers hanging from the trees – 75 in total – birdcages protruding from flower beds and crystal dinnerware scattered large silvered tables.
Gardener Susan Bath, who has spent 27 years putting the outdoor scene together, said she hopes her mystical greenspace will inspire creativity within all who enter, and will encourage them to embrace whimsy in all its forms.
“I hope this shows that you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional, or be a professional, to create in this way. You don’t need a landscape artist, you don’t need money or a large garden, you just need time and a sense of playfulness,” she said, adding how most pieces had been gifted, bought from charity stores, or picked up from the side of the road.
While some gardens transported guests to Lewis Carroll lands, others set the scene for education. At Garden number 9, dubbed ‘Energized’, the LifeSpace Gardens hosted fellow green thumbs and offered tips and information on urban farming and vegetable growing.
At “Harmony”, garden number 4 on West Vancouver’s Whonoak Road, a fourteen year old food forest on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) land invited guests to learn about Indigenous plants and healing.
“This is an educational space, where people can come and pick different things that they need from our community, anytime of the year,” said Senaqwila Wyss, the garden’s host, adding how the garden is open to all who want to learn.
Wyss said the event provided the opportunity for guests to learn the names of herbs and plants in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim (Squamish language), to learn of Indigenous foods themselves – like the Indigenous wild potato wapato that has been making a comeback in local soil – and to immerse themselves in Squamish culture. Within the garden, musician Rennie Nahanee had delivered song and Squamish storytelling, talking of Elders and canoe experiences.
Whether hosting Indigenous storytelling or abstract art, each garden, said Tary Majidi, artist and host of Marine Drive’s offering, should provoke some sort of response from guests. It should inspire them to create or to engage, to connect with other people more or to just appreciate the smaller, more natural, everyday things in life.
“We could all do with getting off the internet, off social media, and going back to art and going back to the natural world, enjoying nature or clay or paint,” she said.
“If there is one thing that people should take away from this event, it’s that art can heal and that should not be overlooked,” she said.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
Bigger Art in the Park returns this weekend
Last year’s event in Windsor’s Willistead Park broke attendance records. About 40,000 people came through the gate, and sales surpassed years in the past. Event Chair Allan Kidd said one vendor had to drive home for more inventory when they sold out.
More than 250 vendors from Ontario and Quebec registered for this year’s festival. Another 20 food vendors signed up, including local beer, wine, and spirits makers.
A complimentary bike valet is new this year. Those who go will find it at the Chilver Road entrance.
Kids Zone is back with four giant inflatables, face painting, and the chance to meet some of their favourite characters.
A free shuttle service will carry festival-goers to Willistead Park from 1591 Kildare Road and the Hiram Walker parking lot on Riverside Drive at Montreuil Avenue.
Admission is $8 at the gate, but guests can buy a ticket online for $7. There is no charge for children aged 12 and under.
Art in the Park has raised $1.3-million for the Rotary Club of Windsor 1918’s restoration efforts at Willistead Manor and $2-million for local and global projects.
“Much of our community doesn’t know that Art in the Park is a fundraising event. The people who attend help us raise the funds to build schools, drill wells, and deliver books, medicine and wheelchairs at home and around the world,” said Kidd.
Art in the Park on Saturday is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Masha Titova’s “The Music of Art”
available to read in its entirety here, manage to do.t’s not often that the cover of The New Yorker, traditionally a storytelling image signed by the artist, reflects what goes on behind the scenes at the magazine—but that is what the black and copper shapes designed by Masha Titova for the cover of the June 5, 2023, Music Issue,
The first step was connecting with Titova, a Russian artist who relocated to Montenegro last year, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I asked Titova to use her sense of design to orchestrate a portrayal of a variety of sounds. Titova says, “I don’t play an instrument, but I love music, especially its rhythms, which often inspire me. And when I design, I try to harmonize the various visual shapes as if they were part of a musical composition.”
Once we settled upon the image, we recorded the aural elements that make up the cover’s malleable melody. Some of our more musically adept staffers—including Nick Trautwein, a senior editor who moonlights as a saxophonist, and David Remnick, the editor, on guitar—gathered to interpret Titova’s shapes, selecting the ones they wished to play. Julia Rothchild, a managing editor, who contributed piano, viola, and voice, described the process as “an exercise in synesthesia. What sound would that square make, or those triangles? A thud, or a flutter?”
Impromptu chamber groups formed: a viola-cello duo, a vocal quintet. The musical respite in the middle of the day presented the opportunity to exercise a different kind of focus from that of closing pieces, or making fact-checking calls. The associate research director Hélène Werner, who has played the cello since she was eight years old, said, “Music set me on my way. It was the organizing principle of my childhood. . . . It demands, of those who play it and listen to it, intellectual commitment and emotional honesty. It is generous in return. There is no better teacher.” Rina Kushnir, the art director, also appreciates music for its emotive qualities, for its ability to communicate what is “not possible to express otherwise.” Liz Maynes-Aminzade, the puzzles-and-games editor, says that “drumming and writing (puzzles or otherwise) light up some of the same parts of my brain.” A unifying factor in everyone’s performance was how seriously each performer took their music. One after the other, when their turn came, they paused their casual banter, took a deep breath, played their bit, and only then rejoined the playful green-room atmosphere. It was an unplanned but perfect demonstration of all our colleagues’ marvellous dedication to all they do.
The making of a weekly magazine (or of a Web site, a radio show, a festival, any of our many undertakings) is always a concerted endeavor, but that collaboration happens behind the scenes. This multimedia project, programmed by David Kofahl, the head of the interactives department, with the help of the features editor Sam Wolson, gives a glimpse of the way the efforts of many talented individuals and departments combine to insure that The New Yorker appears on your doorstep (or in your in-box), week after week, as good as we can make it.
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