A Mixed media visual artist, whose work centers around the enduring spirits of oppressed peoples.
The Blood That Binds
Monarch magazine: What is your creative process like?
Toni Scott: Being raised as a spiritual person, I’ve always felt deep empathy for the people in the world around me. In 2004, my uncle went on a family discovery trek, interviewing our cousins and collecting stories about the lives of our ancestors. It was transformative to me and shaped the main narrative that comes out in my work – the divine journey of human beings and our connection to God.
My Bloodlines series is born out of the book: Discovering Our Past: The May Family History 1705 – 2004, authored by my maternal uncle, Richard Procello. from which I learned details about my Muscogee Creek heritage, European and African American ancestry. My Mother’s story of her Grandmother Dora and Grandfather SBW May were also inspirational. Then, on my father’s side, I was also inspired by an essay: A Boutique History of Albert Hardiman & William Hardiman and the story of my Grandmother Calle, Great Grandmother Fine and Aunt Jenny.
Monarch magazine: What do you enjoy the most about your career?
Toni Scott: The human connection. I experience so much joy when I communicate something that inspires the audience and brings about greater understanding between different peoples. Engaging in a human exchange and sharing stories that bring us all closer together is pure joy for me as an artist.
Monarch magazine: Has the message you are sharing been embraced more in certain cultures or parts of the world?
Toni Scott: Surprisingly, the message has been resonant wherever my work has been exhibited. In the United States, whether it’s been an African American, White, Hispanic, or Asian audience, my work has successfully conveyed messages about racial injustice. At the Bloodlines exhibition I produced in China about the African slave trade, an Asian journalist reviewing my show was moved to tears when she shared with me that one of the faces on the side of my slave ship looked like her grandfather. In Saudi Arabia, there was a Call to Prayer, and I prayed with another artist who practiced Islam (I am a Christian), and we found there was a harmony of spirituality between us. Having experiences that transcend racial, national, and religious boundaries, enables us to strengthen our historic and genetic commonalties as human beings. In South Africa, my exhibit “Bloodlines Africa” resonated deeply with the people, as the parallel histories of enslavement in the Americas and Aparthied in Africa has had such a span impact on the people of color on both continents.
Monarch magazine: Your artwork has focused on the genocide of indigenous Native Americans, Jewish people during the Holocaust, and Africans enslaved in the Americas. What caused you to use your artistic gifts and talent to tell the stories of these voiceless people?
Toni Scott: To stand up for the persecuted and oppressed and to shine a light on the need for us all to embrace more of our own humanity. It was their strength and resilience that made their survival possible and I am here because I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. My art is how I do my part to keep their stories from being forgotten.
Monarch magazine: Is there any fear when tackling such a controversial subject?
Toni Scott: On a certain level, yes, there is always the possibility of backlash from those that are threatened by the message. But when I look at myself from a global perspective, I know that being an American provides me the opportunity to speak truthfully as an artist.
I draw courage on issues that are important to share. I believe if I can touch one heart, inspire empathy and understanding in at least one person then I have succeeded, regardless of the controversy. For example, the body casting of Death at the Hands of the Police – a good friend of mine is an officer and he shared that there are good guys and bad guys. I agree. But I also find it imperative to share the story about black men being targeted and unjustly treated. It’s based on fact and not assumption.
Monarch magazine: Do you think your art dealing with violence due to racism creates an understanding and a willingness for people to conduct conversations around these topics?
Toni Scott: I do. I truly believe that creating awareness and ultimately a deeper sense of humanity for one’s fellow man is a way to help end acts of violence committed against people based on their ethnicity. My visual narrative about Black men being ongoing targets of violence comes from my sense of grief and my longing for it to finally change.
Monarch magazine: Have you experienced an audience viewing your art and receiving a different message or interpretation than what you set out to express? If so, how do you feel about that?
Toni Scott: Yes, and I love it because I do not create from a hard line. If you see something in my work, educate me, show me what you see, I’m always interested. For example, with my piece entitled The Empire Strikes Black, my intention was to show the “empire” of the oppressed rising-up, being span and resilient. I’ve had people share takeaways that it’s a shipwreck, or that it’s a lynching, and I respect other people’s interpretations. That’s the exciting thing about art. We’re all going to see something different, which can lead us into different conversations.
Monarch magazine: How do the materials you use impact your work?
Toni Scott: I tend to allow the material I’m using move me. For example, I’m often drawn to wood and wood is used for paper, and stories are told on paper. Stone is from the earth we stand on, so there’s a metamorphosis when I use stone and transform it. I also ask myself, “How can I use this material in an aesthetically pleasing way to tell the story I want to tell?”
Monarch magazine: What would you like to achieve in the near future?
Toni Scott: I would like Bloodlines to travel around the world to tell the story of African and Native American history, the injustice that was endured, and the power and resilience of our people.
My hope with Bloodlines is that it empowers African Americans not to run away from the story of being descendants of slaves, but instead to embrace the strength that we developed from coming out of such horrific beginnings to be standing here today. There has always been global interest in Bloodlines because everywhere on the planet human rights are violated. My hope is for Bloodlines to provide inspiration to people, letting them know it is possible to survive, move forward and grow.
Monarch magazine: Are there other projects in the works?
Toni Scott: Yes. “Genetic Memories” encompasses the migration of mankind, DNA memory, asemic language and glossolalia (my work done while speaking in tongues.) My work also centers on topics surrounding phrenology and this body of work includes conceptual sculpture rooted in a narrative with the goal to connect humanity.