5 Minutes with Ashleigh Barice

Founder and Director of curatorial platform b.Dewitt and AucArt's guest curator of the month, Ashleigh Barice, tells us about her journey into the art world, how to hold space and what should follow after we post a black square.

Tell us about your upbringing? How has this affected your career?

I am 50% the product of a strong Black woman, 50% the product of a strong Black man, and 100% the product of my ancestors. Geographically speaking, I grew up in a suburb of New Orleans known as Terrytown, Louisiana, a 15 minute drive from the city centre. The city itself serves as a brutal assault to the senses; the vibrant Caribbean inspired colour palette, unbearable heat, sinful cuisine, big personalities, world class music, and deadly cocktails. Yet, my introduction to art did not come until well into my undergraduate degree, after having seen a 2008 display of Ari Marcopolous’s photography at New Orleans Museum of Art. My previous relationship with art was one that had yet to be fully realised, as I always thought it to be something inaccessible to me. Girls that looked like me did not really “do the art thing”.

I have always had a deep relationship to the visual and was always a very visual child, having developed a deep awareness of taste in my youth. Not to say that it was necessarily good taste. I have a fashionista mother who also had a fashionista mother, so self-expression became key to my understanding of self. My time in both undergraduate and postgraduate simply allowed me a space to put this into practice through a visual language.

What’s something few people know about you?

From the ages of about 9 – 12 I really wanted to be either a geologist, volcanologist, or meteorologist. I sadly discovered that there was copious amounts of math involved and decided that this indeed was not my path in life. However, I do believe that my rock, mineral and gem collections are still safely stored in my parents’ garage.

How has your education shaped you as the curator, researcher and writer you are today?

Education is such a subjective term that has, for me, primarily taken place outside of the classroom itself. It also took me ages to figure out exactly what I wanted to do after university. I pull heavily from my African-American roots as there is such a wealth of knowledge, source material and pride that comes from this experience. The role of my classroom based education has aided and provided me with a deeper understanding of discourse, methods, and methodology. 

I attended an all girls Catholic high school which is probably the root of my Black Feminism. The turning point in my career was when I changed my major to Visual Art as it laid the groundwork for my curatorial approach, research interests and writing, allowing me to contextualise both catharsis and nostalgia. I suppose my most formative degree was my MRes Art: Theory and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins, that I completed in 2017, as I view my current work as the applied component of my dissertation.

Craziest studio visit & why?!

Not so much crazy, but equal parts terrifying, and a constant reminder of the stain of gun violence and the overwhelming, idiotic lack of gun control and gun possession in general. When I ran a small gallery in New Orleans, I went to a metal sculptor’s home studio. He was a lovely local guy with a great sense of humour, but a bit dark. As we walked through his garden he took his fingers and proceeded to poke them through two holes in his wooden fence, which I came to find out were bullet holes. He then looks at me and says, “I dunno, I think someone got a new gun or something.” 

My previous relationship with art was one that had yet to be fully realised, as I always thought it to be something inaccessible to me. Girls that looked like me did not really “do the art thing”.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The past few years have been full of a number of incredibly formative career highlights, so it is impossible to narrow it down to a single one. My proudest moments have been the development of my curatorial platform b.Dewitt, the collaborative audit of the Middlesbrough Collection at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), contributing to the Hangar’s 2019 publication Atlantica: Contemporary Art from Angola and its Diaspora, and most recently having joined the incredible team at Gagosian Gallery.

What draws you to an artist?

I am drawn to an artist who approaches each artwork as a problem to not necessarily be solved, but to be resolved. Careful of the semantics of the word ‘problem’, but this idea of approaching each work as being complete when it is resolved is very simple yet impactful. This is something that has stuck with me since undergraduate. I am also very drawn to artists who do not lend themselves to the trends but rather create the trend(s) and are not afraid to be confrontational in their practices.

What are the three main things you look for in a piece of art?

The primary things that I look for in a piece of art are nuance, resolution, and timelessness. I love to look at a work and discover something new each time I revisit it. I am incredibly drawn to irony, cheek and a work that I can continuously dig and dig and dig and never really reach the bottom; a work that is infinite in its meaning, yet contained.

What is your favourite genre or style at the moment?

I have always had an intense love affair with painting, specifically contemporary figurative painting. Of the various painters that I have been studying, the two artists that I constantly come back to are Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. I honestly cannot get enough of their works, returning to them often as I always uncover something that I had not seen before.

What have you learnt during lockdown?

I have been forced to tackle one of my biggest demons, self-compassion. Entering lockdown, I most certainly had unrealistic expectations of what I would/could conquer during this time, disregarding the mental impact of a pandemic. My primary takeaway is to not only show grace towards others during this time, but to also do the same for yourself.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

The women in my family are my role models, specifically my mother. The guidance, love, and support of these Black women have provided me with the tools that I have continuously used to hold space, which is the absolute foundation of my practice(s). 

If there was one thing you could change about the art world for the better what would it be?

So, we have posted black squares on Instagram, now what? It is no longer enough to merely acknowledge the overwhelming privilege and complicity in our sector. Acknowledgement is the easy part. We are now faced (and have always been faced) with the more challenging task of prioritising substantial institutional and structural reorganisation. The primary thing that I would change about the art world is LEARN TO LISTEN.

Is there an alternative underlying narrative that has occurred in your selection of works for this month’s auction – if so what is it?

There are a few different alternative narratives, but I would say that cultural custodianship and stewardship would be the most present. Though I feel slightly anxious about defining myself as a curator, I often refer back to the original concept of curator as ‘keeper’ and ‘caretaker’. However, I do not feel as if this role is limited or unique to myself in this selection of artists. I believe that both the artists and myself represent a form of custodianship of our culture and this selection is most certainly a representation and embodiment of just that.