Marcus Kuiland-Nazario’s practice is rooted in storytelling, manifesting in curatorial and event production on the local and international art world stage, built on the foundation of his own long career as a visual and performance artist. His specialty is in emotionally intense, psychologically and sometimes physically intimate performances, and unpacking the interwoven threads of poignant personal and broader societal histories. His new interview-based project opens at the gallery at 18th Arts Center this week, with a performance and month-long installation.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
Marcus Kuiland-Nazario: Since I was a child, there was never any question in my mind that I would grow up to be an artist. I was always making something or making something happen. I wasn’t really into toys, I would make or create my own toys and games, and also be putting on shows for friends and family. Now as an artist, curator, and producer I found a way to do both. I consider my curation part of my art practice.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is rooted in risk, vulnerability, violence and the spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora that I grew up steeped in. I create performances based on my experiencing those things as a child and also as a queer person of color. I have a very dark sense of humor. I think it is important to find the humor in things. I am a sad clown. I’m also only interested in presenting works that explore those themes. Art that does not take any risks is really not interesting to me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
If I weren’t an artist I would be in the craft room of a psychiatric ward producing shows for my fellow patients and making cat toys. Or maybe I’d be a psychotherapist.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I haven’t received any formal art education. My education came from participating in the formation of the 18th Street Arts Center and Highways Performance Space. I learned from mentors like Tim Miller, Linda Burnham, and Guillermo Gomez -Peña. I also interned at PS122 and the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in ’80s New York City.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A. is still the Wild West, you can still hang a shingle and try to make something happen here, there are still bullets flying through the air. There is always construction going on, things constantly being built and torn down, it is a city in a constant state of flux process. As a performance artist, that really appeals to me. I have tried to leave Los Angeles several times and I always find my way back here. Los Angeles is a city that you can hide in it is so vast. As an L.A. native son (Hollywood High Class of ’83) there are parts of the city that I am still discovering. Older cities do not offer that, in my opinion.
When was your first show?
My first performance was in the 1985 or ’86, while interning at PS122 in New York City. It was a collaboration with Brechin Flournoy and a taxidermied duck. To this day I still perform with taxidermy. My first foray into curating performance works was a group show called “Feast of All Souls” at Highways Performance Space in November of 1989.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I just performed at Soloflex, curated by Jennifer Locke, alongside McDazzler, Marketing Steger, and Paul Donald. I have an installation/performance work at the 18th Street Arts Center titled MACHO STEREO coming up this week. The opening reception and performance in on Thursday, June 27, and the show is open in the gallery through July 26. [There’s a related offsite performance session on Saturday, June 29 at Camera Obscura Art Lab in Santa Monica.] And I have an upcoming performance in San Diego at the San Diego Art Institute as part of the exhibition Forging Territories: Queer Afro and Latinx Contemporary Art curated by Rubén Esparza.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
I’ve had the good fortune of working with and presenting some of my favorite artists both dead and alive. I guess my fantasy collaboration would be with Walter Mercado. I’d love to present several evenings of works by artists that get possessed by spirits and or deities, and have those spirits and deities collaborate with each other.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I’m currently obsessed with the soundtracks of Giallo films. Those ’70s sounds really take me out of my head and the out of the current steady flow of bad news created by the current administration in the White House. The Suspiria soundtrack really cheers me up and brightens my mood. I enjoy being transported into a lush, supernatural, satanic world filled with impeccably dressed women, witches and nuns.
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