Lenscratch photography journal has named mk, a photography student at The University of New Mexico, as one of its 2021 26 to Watch.
“We wanted to shine a light on 26 photographers that you should have (and keep) on your radar, artists who may be at the beginning of their photography journey but are already working at an elevated level, creating work that is deeply meaningful, especially in a time when change is critical,” explained Aline Smithson, founder of Lenscratch, a photography journal that celebrates different contemporary photographers.
mk is currently in their final semester of an MFA degree in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography. They are originally from the small rural town of Sulligent, Alabama. Calling the town “a driving force for the majority of their work,” mk said they have “expanded on the concept of home encompassing place, family, and self.”
“UNM has helped me figure out how to be more self-sufficient as an artist.”
mk, UNM photography student
Using found items, stories, and the longing to be back in their small town, mk “investigates coping mechanisms through the function of photographic memory,” working in a variety of mediums ranging from photography, printmaking, and sculpture to pursue and question their upbringing, identity, family, and the terms of loss and memory.
Lenscratch highlights mk’s To Repair Broken Skin, a “photographic investigation of generational body trauma, memory, and relationship within a black queer body.”
“Evoking a sense of dissociation, with this body of work I use myself and others around me to explore the act of opening up and the simultaneous feeling of desire and reluctance that comes with that process. Interrogating the origins of shame, remorse, and uncertainty, my investigation interweaves the self and the boundaries of relationships; platonic, romantic, and all the types in between. Asexual by personal orientation, lesbian by societies warrants, my use of self-portraits convolute the landscape, challenging the views of sex, transitions, and bodily integrity,” mk explained.
“While I wouldn’t necessarily label myself as a photographer I will have to say that the moments in between each other, the words we speak into existence and how I have attempted to navigate my space in this world are the ‘what.’ It’s actually quite simple, and it happens very slowly.”
mk names Clarissa Sligh and Rotimi Fani Kayode as two of their biggest “who” influences.
“I have referenced back to their work for many years now, and last year I was finally able to see Kayode’s work in person. It was actually a dream come true.”
On being chosen as one of Lenscratch’s 26 young photographers to watch, mk said, “It felt great and very validating. That series of work titled To Repair Broken Skin is something I’ve been making for many years now, and it was being installed locally at [Albuquerque gallery] Trapdoor Projects earlier this year.”
Heartbreakingly though, the show was canceled due to arson.
“I lost all of the work that was installed. I went through a period of feeling less than because of this. After some time I decided to start applying to things with the work and Lenscratch including it in the 26 photographers to watch was extremely shocking. It’s strange to feel so down or have thoughts of your work not being worth it, just to see that others find it interesting enough to share. I’m really glad that I submitted the work and the jurors included it in this year’s selection!”
“UNM has helped me figure out how to be more self-sufficient as an artist,” mk noted. “Coming from a more group-based undergraduate course load to an individualized program has forced me to figure out what decisions I need to make that benefit me the most, and also helped me define my boundaries between art and life.”
When asked about a favorite or influential professor, mk said, “It’s so difficult to pick who is the best that it simply cannot be done. I’ve been helped and supported by so many people in the Department of Art and Art History, as well as persons from Africana Studies. To be completely honest I would not have been able to accomplish all the things I have without this system and network of people, but I will say that my graduate committee, which includes Jim Stone, Kirsten Pai Buick, Szu-Han Ho, and Natasha Howard, alongside my graduate adviser Kat Heatherington, have been some of the most influential during all of the hard moments. They all tend to know when to push, and most of the time they say the words I need to hear in order to move forward.”
Their work has been featured at UNM, SITE Santa Fe and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, including Because It’s Time in 2018 and The View Inside a Casket. Their MFA thesis exhibition was at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory studio in Albuquerque last year. mk’s work featured on Lenscratch is also being installed for a group show with other previous MFA grads titled Bodies for Scale in Charlotte, NC, at Goodyear Arts until Aug. 13, 2021.
The UNM Photography program was rated 8th in photography by U.S. News & World Report in 2020 among Best Grad Schools.