“Art for Tomorrow” Artist Interview: DaeQuan Collier

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

daequan collier smiling in front of brick surrounded window

Where are you from?

I’m from the Bronx, born and raised. I went to NYU for my undergrad, and I’m an MFA student in the screenwriting program at Emerson College.

What do you do as an artist?

I’m more of an experimental filmmaker, I’m very interested in storytelling, but I don’t restrict myself to structure or form. I think a story should dictate how a film works.

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

I think What If Black Boys Were Butterflies? fits into the exhibit because it’s a reimagining of boyhood for Black children in this country. It also reckons with what it currently looks like, but it deals with both: the reality of hardship, but this is what it could be. That’s how it fits into the “tomorrow” part, it’s about moving forward and seeing what a future could be like for Black boys.

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

I find myself artistically driven by what’s going on in the world. This film is concerned with freedom, which I keep thinking about. For many reasons, young Black children in this country don’t get to experience freedom in childhood the way that other kids can. I think that is something that we should be having conversations about. Why can’t we experience childhood in a different way; why is this hard? How do we move forward; how do we change this? I feel like that’s the role of an artist, to be a voice for truth and bring these issues into society to have these conversations.

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

I think I’m starting to move towards this idea that film isn’t just for movies or TV, but can be a means of expression for people. That’s what art is, people get to express how they feel. And that’s usually tied to sociopolitical things. We’re political beings, whether we know it or not. The way we interact with each other, it’s all political. The role of the artist is to bring that to the forefront, and in times like these we feel like we don’t have political power to change things. But artists reflect how people are doing, and show what society could or should be like.

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

Growing up in the Bronx, I was surrounded by so many different people and cultures. Everybody has these diverse stories. Seeing that these stories are not often told or reflected in media is something that drives me. I strive to represent people in these ways that are authentic. There are no caricatures or tropes or didactic talking-points that we see in a lot of “woke” films. I think, in my art, I want to organically and authentically represent the experiences of people that I know and people that look like me.

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

I want people to really think about the visual storytelling that’s going on there. Specifically, the shot of the guy running around in the field, how many times have you seen that in real life? How many times have you seen Black children playing, and experiencing freedom and joy? How many times have you seen that in real life, and what do you typically see Black boys doing? Does that change your perspective?

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

When this all started happening, I stopped seeing the point of what my art was doing. It was difficult, but I realized that we still have these problems despite the pandemic. We still see protests, there are still issues to fight, and there’s never a pause. I’m always questioning how I feel about the world and how my friends feel about the world. Also, I read a lot by artists and writers of color. I just shot a film last month that was based on the stuff going on and what I was reading at the time; all of those things came together. As an artist, I’m grounded in the sociopolitical world. James Baldwin and Toni Morrison are two artists who inspire the kind of work I do now because they were writing without the white gaze.