“Art for Tomorrow” Artist Interview: Claudio Eshun

Interested in learning more about the artists on display at Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery? Read about Claudio Eshun and his journey, process, and hope for the future of art.

Where are you from?

I was born in Ghana in 1996, then moved to Italy at the age of 2. By age 9, I moved to western Massachusetts where I currently live. At the moment, I’m at Mass Art. I’m a second-year photo grad student.

What do you do as an artist?

At the moment, I call myself a photo-based artist where I use images to visually express and display some form of activism. I believe that I portray my Black experience as an immigrant who has navigated different continents. And I’m still navigating different spaces, more so now as an academic. I’m an inner-city kid. And I still call myself a kid because I’m young at heart. I use fashion symbols as well as African-American tropes to amplify my work. That’s where the performance really comes through my work. I’m a weird, emotional person, so I get sparked by emotions and they get into my work. I have an emotional connection to people, I think. I care for people, and I want that to also be visible in my work. This is my second year at Mass Art, and I’ve learned about their process, philosophies, and principles, so that’s really helped me. I appreciate and value that from Mass Art. I’m really trying to step into a different world of fashion and photography, but with a fine art approach. Having the education and background of fine art, I can see a big difference in my work. I still don’t really call myself an artist though, because I come from a traditional background. In my undergrad, I was a biology major, but I was also a freelance photographer.

What does the exhibit “Art For Tomorrow” mean to you? How do you / does your art fit into or challenge that idea?

Now that I’m in an actual “art space,” specifically fine art, I’ve been receiving critiques where people say my images are more concerned with fashion. I’m trying to break the stereotypical kind of art and that’s why I really support what the exhibition is doing. It’s really given me a path to break stereotypes and expectations of what art is supposed to be like. I really appreciate the title of the exhibit and it’s whole movement.

How do you see your own art play a role in day to day life /or in the human history canon?

Big picture, I bring together different demographics of people into a space that wouldn’t otherwise be occupied by them. I really appreciate that because conversations can be sparked from there. It feels really genuine. Most conversations lead to something more academic, but this concerns the community.

What role does ‘art’ play in critical times like right now?

Art is very therapeutic. Oh my goodness, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have photography as an art-based medium to release my inner thoughts. I find photography to be a medium where I can share myself and other people.

If you can tell us one thing about your art, what would that be?

My work is spiritual. It’s not of this world. I see things in this world, but it’s more than that. It’s not like above this world, I would say it’s with this world that we live in, but it’s another dimension. The expressions, body language, performativity, lighting, and setting, all contribute to the spiritual aspect of it.

Is there anything you’d like the viewer to know or be aware of when looking at your art?

It’s very Black! Growing up, I felt like I didn’t really see a lot of people who looked like me or were not typical “well-structured” models, so now I’m trying to change that. It’s not necessarily all Black, but I’m trying to get more raw with my images. Not raw as in gritty, but raw as in a more authentic and realistic way of viewing the Black experience. It’s about blending cultures.

How do you continue to find inspiration in a COVID world? What keeps you moving?

As weird as it sounds, I read a lot and I also listen to what’s going on in the world. Everyday life. I can go on social media right now and it gets me going. I’m not going to lie, what’s on the news every day keeps me going. The community I live in, at a local level, I see what’s going on and I have to keep going. I’m privileged enough to be in grad school or in higher ed. Not everyone has that choice to go. My circumstances set me up for this, so I keep going because I know, if I do, those who are watching or those I come across can also find a way to keep going. I don’t know how I’m doing, but the encounters I have on a daily basis keep me going. It’s not easy. Living is not easy. And finding purpose too can be hard. It just gets harder, I think. It’s not that I’m scared, but there’s pressure. I like the pressure, it pushes me to articulate what I’m feeling and thinking, not only at Mass Art, but living and navigating so many spaces. I’ve been trying to write a little more, and reading. I take inspiration from artists I’m drawn to.

I read non-fiction books. I want to get more into poetry, but I haven’t found the time. I bought a book called Citizen by Claudia Rainke and I haven’t sat down to read it yet. I haven’t had the time yet to read it, but I also got Ta-Nahisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Once I’m not a TA doing all this crazy stuff, I’m excited to read soon.

(Interviewed by: Bina Ruchi Perino and Carolina Alcantara)