Día De Los Muertos Artist Interview: Patricia Montgomery and Michael Ross

Seeking life and liberty “Seeking Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness that America Promised,” 2016. Patricia Montgomery and Michael Ross. Photo by Chani Bockwinkel.

How did you choose the Scottsboro Boys’ arrest of 1931 as the theme for your exhibit at Día De Los Muertos 2016?

Michael: I knew that Patricia had done previous work honoring the Scottsboro Boys, and references to them have been showing up in my own work in the past few years. When these young men were arrested in Alabama, it was decades before I was born. However, since I grew up as a black male in the neighboring state of Mississippi, it still strikes me today that this could have happened to my father and/or his six older brothers or their father, who were all alive in 1931.

Patricia: We also talked about how to bring the story to the future.  We reflected on how this miscarriage of justice has continued throughout the ages in the form of the police still killing African Americans. That was how the names were added to the side walls. We felt we were honoring these individuals and still questioning the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Your theme for the showcase was ‘Seeking Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness that America Promised’. How has the situation changed in your surroundings with respect to this over the past decade?

Michael: It is difficult for me not to observe what seems like a cycle of injustice affecting many vulnerable populations that takes different forms during different decades. Our current world is very image driven, but it feels like American society has constructed a narrative of images that still reinforce a lingering notion that various people-of-color are inherently criminal, incapable and undeserving of living normal lives.

What feelings are you trying to bring out in people interacting with this exhibit?

Patricia: I hope that through the story the viewer will learn more about an event in history and realize that the injustice is still going on. I also hope to spark an interest in the viewer to learn more about their history.

Michael: There have been deep injustices that have gone hand in hand with the deaths of the people whose names have been displayed on the walls of our exhibit. I wish for the exhibit to remind everyone these deceased individuals have also left behind loved ones to navigate through loss, just as we do our best to honor our loved ones, and cope with our losses.

What concepts and themes are you currently exploring with your practice?

Patricia: I continue to work with African American history and the changes we have made in this country. I am currently working on quilted story swing coats that tell the story of the involvement of African American women in the Civic Rights Movement.

Michael: I continue to explore ways that my art can be a reminder of the equal power that we each can access through the process of creativity. Reminding the marginalized that it is not necessary to ask permission of the forces in power to access our creativity and make things.

About the artists:

Patricia Montgomery moved to California in 1979 from Hempstead, NY. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley, CA. She started out as an abstract painter and made her first story quilt for the Florence Biennial in 2011. She has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. She continues to explore textile paintings that are rich in color, texture and celebrate the rhythms of life.

Michael Ross has lived and worked in San Francisco since 1988.  He has participated in exhibitions around the Bay Area and his work has been collected around the country. He has partnered with several authors for the use of his work as illustrations and cover designs for their books. His work has also been utilized in theatrical productions as projected set designs.

About the Interviewer: Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focussed on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.