In February, it was announced that multimedia artist Lex Brown was awarded the United States Artist Fellowship, a prize of $50,000 unrestricted funds. The fellowship cohort of 60 recipients, spanning disciplines, mediums, and regions, also includes two other Philly-based artists, Carolyn Lazard and Sharon Hayes.
“This fellowship is extremely humbling," Brown said. "It really came just after a time of really feeling very deep uncertainty about what I was doing, if [my work] was connecting with anybody, or making any sense. So this is deeply affirming.”
Heavy, with levity
Brown’s work is exploratory and experimental. Through music, video, sculpture, painting, drawing, writing, and more, she wrestles with themes of identity, data and intelligence, and temporal and physical space. She explores her own identity within her work, but race is not explicitly centered. Instead, she queries varying perspectives of reality and interactions in life, often with humor.
With her fellowship prize, Brown plans to complete a short film project. She also wants to take time to further explore and focus on music. In the meantime, she will continue her teaching posts at her alma maters, Princeton and Harvard.
“I've started teaching this year for the first time, and that has been unexpectedly healing. When you can choose to create an experience of high emotional value and high spiritual value, in addition to the knowledge that one wants to teach, the facts or the information, then having that kind of authority to be able to do that in the classroom has been really, really amazing,” Brown said.
She’s also looking forward to being inspired by her new city. Especially as more things open up, she’s anticipating being more in the community and participating in more of the local arts scene. “One thing that I am really drawn to in Philadelphia is just that there's so much grassroots.”
Witnessing a SuperNoVa
Brown, who has some family connections to Lincoln and Chester, Pennsylvania, moved to Philadelphia in October 2020. She is originally from Northern Virginia (also known as NoVa) and her relationship to her hometown is complex. NoVa boasts racial and ethnic diversity, but in many respects subscribes to homogeneity in regards to class, ideologies, and ambitions. From an early age, this pushed Brown to be more philosophical in questioning her environment and finding alternative outlets of expression.
Just outside of Washington DC, NoVa houses the nation’s data, intelligence, and military centers. The influence of this environment permeated Brown’s psyche and work as the hyperawareness and internalization of the concepts of surveillance, ordinances, and restrictions. Continuing to unpack and process this relationship is part of her ongoing practice.
It wasn’t until the creation of the works exhibited at last year’s “They Flew to Planet Nova” show at the Kate Werble Gallery in New York that Brown made the conscious connection between how and where she grew up and her art.
“In the past year, I have been more purposefully just trying to embrace where I'm from and using that to develop my own language in combination with all the other things I do, like writing poems and writing songs and performing,” Brown said. She added that she felt a deficiency in understanding where she was from. Now, she sees it as a rich, unique part of who she is.
What, When, Where, and Accessibility
Lex Brown’s works can be viewed on her website, including video art, visual art, music, and performances. Follow her on Instagram. See the other winners of the 2021 United States Artist fellowship online.
Image Description: A portrait shot of Lex Brown, a Black woman. She's straight-faced, facing the camera. She's wearing a red sweater.