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Community Connection: Shay Youngblood

March 14, 2013

We are excited to introduce Shay Youngblood as the first Writer-in-Residence at the DMA.  It’s easy to sit down and talk to Shay for a few minutes, and somehow it turns into a few hours.  She is a great listener, but she is also a great storyteller.

In Houston, February 2013

In Houston, February 2013

Name five things that you love.
Art, books, peace, love, food.

Tell me about your work with the DMA.
I am currently a Writer-in-Residence at the DMA. What I would like to do in that role is create an art project based on visitors’ art experiences. It’s an experiment for me. My belief is that encounters with art or engaging with art can change the way we see the sky, a flower, a face, a body, ourselves. Art that stirs up our senses makes us think and wonder and makes us feel more alive. I contacted Susan (Director of the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA) because I want to visit the Museum regularly, as if I’m visiting another country to learn a new language.

Shay Youngblood and Susan Diachisin, on Shay's first day as Writer-in-Residence

Shay Youngblood and Susan Diachisin, on Shay’s first day as Writer-in-Residence

You are both a writer and a painter. How would you describe your creative process?
In different genres, I start differently. My process comes out of being a storyteller. Whether I’m working on a play, or a novel, or a short story, or a painting, it’s really about telling a good story. With writing, it starts with a character. I get to know the character as well as I can, from their shoe size to their favorite color. I’m interested in a lot of different things – art, food, social justice, politics, race, class – all kinds of things. The work comes out of my interests. But all of my work involves telling a good story.

You recently travelled to Japan through the U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program, which seeks to “promote cultural understanding between the United States and Japan.” How would you say cultural understanding occurred during your time abroad?
My work in Japan was about my wanting to understand the culture through its people. I conducted interviews with artists and architects, but I also met strangers on the street. The most interesting thing to come out of that whole time was that I met two women separately in Tokyo, a city of millions of people. One Japanese woman went to SMU in Dallas. The other, I met while I was trying to get food and was having a hard time – I looked lost. On the last day of my time in Japan, these two realized they knew each other from college thirty-seven years ago; they hadn’t seen each other since then.

I felt not only did I learn about Japanese culture, I think I was also able to share a lot of American culture with the people I met there. A lot of people had not been to the U.S. or ever interacted with an African American person.

In a Tokyo art gallery during U.S./Japan Friendship Commission Creative Artist Fellowship

In a Tokyo art gallery during her U.S./Japan Friendship Commission Creative Artists Fellowship

Through books I have read and films I have seen about Japan, I get the impression that this is a place that appeals to all of the senses. Tell me something that comes to mind for each of the following:

  •  Sight – When I think about Japan, I think about beauty – there is beauty everywhere. One of the most memorable sights was sitting on a beach in Takamatsu and looking out at the water. There is beauty everywhere, and quiet beauty in nature. On the street there were little flowers. There was a general aesthetic of beauty in the simplest things.
  • Sound – Temple bells in the afternoon. That sound was wonderful to me. I felt like I was inside the temple in my hotel room. It was like a moment of meditation every day.
    In the evening, when the children get out of school, you hear a little song playing through speakers around the city. The music essentially says “time to go home now” and plays at the same time every day. This song permeates the whole city.
  • Touch – The traditional way of greeting someone or showing respect in Japan is to bow. My American self would sometimes forget that, and when I was moved by a kindness sometimes I would hug people. I have to say I missed touch. So when a Japanese person would give me a hug because they knew that was in my culture, that was a really special moment for me.
  • Taste – Japanese food is so amazing! It attends to all of the senses.  It is beautiful to look at, some tastes are unusual, and the food in general is some of the best I’ve had in my life. And, the best Mexican restaurant in Tokyo was down the street from my hotel.
  • Smell – There are so many gardens that I visited all over the city, beautiful traditional Japanese gardens. Just the smell of the flowers and the trees and the earth in these gardens was really quite stimulating for me.

Shay will be interviewing visitors about their experiences with art tomorrow during Late Night. Look for her friendly face in the galleries!

Melissa Gonzales
C3 Gallery Manager

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