Navigating Post-Grad Life with Artist Destiny Belgrave
AS A COLLECTIVE, WE WANTED TO TAKE TIME TO HIGHLIGHT THOSE THAT ARE DOING THE HARD WORK OF PURSUING THEIR OWN CREATIVE AND ACADEMIC GOALS, WHILE ALSO PAVING THE WAY TO FURTHER THE REPRESENTATION OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES. WE HAVE CALLED THIS SERIES, TAKING OUR SEAT. FOR OUR SECOND FEATURE, WE ARE PLEASED TO CHAT WITH ARTIST, DESTINY BELGRAVE.
For this discussion, we spoke with Destiny Belgrave about her transition out of her undergraduate program into working life. She discusses her challenges transitioning out of a comfortable space, continuing to make work outside of an educational program, and what advice she has for students in their final stretch of school.
Destiny Belgrave - she/her pronouns - was born and raised in Brooklyn NY and nurtured, with a Caribbean-American upbringing. She is currently based in Queens, NY. Her main medium of choice is paper cutting, which she uses to portray themes of race, culture and spirituality.
Her artwork incorporates her experiences as a black, dark skin, Bajan-American woman, who stumbles through the Christian faith; whilst exploring the interconnected themes of spirituality, religion, race, culture, femininity and sensuality. Destiny’s artistic process is enacted through paper cuts that break the traditional frame while showing black and brown bodies in a high and powerful stature. This is done in order to subvert white patriarchal standards in exchange for a complex and interwoven narrative revolving around people of color.
SPEAKER GUIDE | AB: AKEA BRIONNE & DB: Destiny Belgrave
AB: So you’re now one year out of college, how are you navigating life post-grad? What is occupying the majority of your time now?
DB: Post Grad has had it's expected downs, such as post grad depression, boredom and loneliness but it has also had a few ups. After a rather successful Senior year of being at the top of my game I was immediately humbled with home life, 2 big moves and my art concepts and practice going in a different direction that was new to me. The majority of my time is spent at a non art related job, while the remainder is used for personal outings, art and some self indulgence.
AB: With all of that in mind, what would you say have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced since graduating? Has it impacted the level at which you are able to engage critically with others, your art practice, etc.?
DB: The biggest challenge has probably been my art practice and the big shift in environment and community. I had to simultaneously deal with these things at once and at first I wasn't doing a good job. As I got myself in order, settled in my home and went easier on myself things began to get significantly better. With my art I was frustrated because my concepts and ideas were changing and my art making process was no longer working for me. Throughout college my art was rather conceptual and dealt with blackness and it's relationship to religion and whiteness. It was critical and my process relied on using old western art and compositions. As I came to an end in college these things just didn't sit right with me, it was time to grow and move forward. During post grad I had no idea how move towards that growth. I uprooted my whole process and I was in shambles, I didn't know where to start. I'm finding my way now and things are looking up and it has helped me tremendously to just take my time. That's my new motto for this part of my life “take your time”. The answers I seek will find me.
AB: Like many of the creatives in our network, you attended the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Based on your experience, what are your thoughts about pursuing higher education in the arts now that you have received your degree? Do you feel that art institutions have created environments that allow POC to thrive, or do you feel that you had to curate your experience to receive something from it?
DB: Honestly at MICA I feel like I had some of the greatest times, opportunities and connections of my life. I grew tremendously and I know that it is because of the people I surrounded myself with and because of my own personal effort and diligence with my work. With these institutions and just America in general we as poc have had to make our own space, we have had to do the work that pressures those in charge to change. MICA is not perfect and it is still a white institution so it falls into that same narrative but I am extremely thankful for community and environment that I had there. At the moment and with the times we are in I don't see the need to pursue grad school. Also social media and it's vast reach and accessibility has created a networking platform that can get you where you want to be without the expenses of grad school. I am not financially able to go back to school anyway and I'm also not ready, I need to take my time back and really decompress. I need to be able to steadily work on my craft and build a body of work with my evolving concepts and art practice.
AB: And what about creating work? Has it been difficult now that you’re out of school, which ultimately meant a loss or resources/community/safe space?
DB: Creating work has been difficult, not because of lack of resources but because of how my work and my ideas are shifting. I definitely do miss the community and especially the Center of Identity and Inclusion. Losing these resources and safe spaces are also a pitfall of graduating because I can't as easily dabble in other mediums and technologies with the help of experienced faculty and peers. My mediums of choice (papercutting and digital art) are easily accessible from my home so that's not my biggest problem.
AB: Besides the conceptual development in your art making, do you feel that your program’s curriculum prepared you for the transition into the job market?
DB: Not as well as it could have. We had a class called Professional Development and it taught us the basics of hanging work, gallery shows, residencies and other fine art skill sets but honestly none of that prepares you for being thrust into life and adulthood. I wish they would've spoken on post grad depression and how to deal with this shift, or maybe given us information that's not just about the fine art world. They did ok on preparing us for life as a fine artist but not as an adult. Because let's be honest, most of us graduating will not be famous and established artist that are working with our craft as the only means of income right out the gate. I wish they would've told us more about the realities we will face. Maybe more information on how to get just a regular job, non art related resumes, how to manage your practice and a side job. Just more information on different paths as an artist and what this new world of post grad life would bring so that we are not walking out naive and doe eyed.
AB: With that in mind, how do you implement your personal philosophy into your work (both personal and professional)?
DB: Right now I'm big on intuition, self preservation and time. With my new body of work I'm not trying to make it has convoluted and complex as my old work, I simply want to make intuitively and invoke certain emotions. I also want to make sure that I am giving the work and myself the time they deserve and not rushing them for the sake of having made something, or for the sake of having something to post online. I am working on preserving my emotional state while I work on this personal yet intuitive body of art.
AB: What has been the general response from people about your work, and how do you feel about the way it’s been perceived?
DB: I’ve only shared one completed piece from my new body of work which is Manna from heaven. I didn't expect to get many likes or feedback on it because I was a little unsure of it, it's a transitional piece into newer concepts and slightly newer ways of making work but it was received fairly well. I've also spoke on my transition artwise and people seem to be excited for me. My old work depicted black bodies seeking and completing acts of retribution to white religious figures. This work was mainly papercutting. That work was received differently based on who looked at it. White people would chuckle at it, maybe out of nervousness or humor while black people would more so be amazed or taken aback. I found that very interesting to see and dissect. Overall everyone one who looks at my work is impressed by it's technical quality and that's always nice to witness and hear, especially because of the hours put into the work.
AB: Before we end the discussion, I’m curious as to what advice you would give to students who are in the final stretch of undergrad?
DB: My advice would be that it's ok to take a break after graduating. You have spent about 4 years being an art making machine, crunching deadlines and pushing yourself. You deserve rest. Do not force yourself down any path that you think you're expected to go down. Do what's right for you. Take your time back. You've more than likely been in educational institutions for most of your life, take this time now to unload and collect yourself. Take this time to make a body of work with no pressure or deadlines, really explore yourself and work with all the tools and lessons you took from college. It's also okay to get a job to pay the bills and keep your pockets from being empty, even if that job has nothing to do with your major. Your journey is your own and you have to go at your own pace and keep steady. Also post grad depression is real, a lot of us don't talk about it but a lot of us have experienced some form of it, seek help and communicate if you feel yourself headed in that direction. Social media is just a projection of what we want everyone to see so please do not compare yourself to anyone on there, do not take others accomplishments as a means to make yourself feel small. Be inspired, make connections, see how those you look up to got to where they are, study it, find your own way. Find your own path of success and be diligent.
To keep up with Destiny, or her work, you can find her on Instagram at @destinybelgrave or on her website: https://destinybelgrave.myportfolio.com/home