Artist Interview: Danielle Nelson Mourning

For our group exhibition #portrait, San Francisco based artist Danielle Nelson Mourning presents a series of works of photography, film and video that highlight her shifts in psyche from 2005 to the present. Mourning obtained her MFA from the Royal College of Art in London, England and upon graduation, she received the Deutsche Bank Pyramid Award for Fine Art, which funded her work abroad. Read on to discover how Mourning uses the self-portrait to honor her ancestry and how her photography has taken her around the world, from Ireland to India.

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Dome, Rishikesh, India, 2015 (detail) | Ink print, acrylic and gold leaf

WHEN DID YOUR INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY BEGIN? WHAT INSPIRED IT?

My interest in photography began at around 11 years old. The one-hour photo shop in my town asked to use one of the photographs I took of my baby sister. This gave me creative confidence and awareness of some talent as I struggled keeping up in school. I majored in Studio Art in college with an emphasis in photography, which at the time was all about black and white documentary. When I was 28 while attending Art Center in Pasadena for commercial work, photography was blowing up in galleries and auctions. This affected my perception of photography and my prospective commercial path. There were fundamental teachers who also instilled confidence in my ability to speak visually, which carried me into grad school.

HOW DO YOUR SELF-PORTRAITS REFLECT YOUR FAMILY HISTORY?

The body of work where I have used myself as the model in the role of my ancestors reflects past history having imprints on our present. My ancestry is rooted in parts of the world I am no longer a part of, including this country; my parents uprooted and did not show me where they were from. The only way I could understand their past was through stories and photographs. Like many, my family displaced from indigenous land hundreds of years ago and have since scattered all over America. How these locals still linger did not really start to viscerally haunt me until I moved to Europe for graduate school. I knew I could use my body as the medium in front of the camera to see what reflected back on the film. This began some sort of conversation with genetics, ghosts and the spirit world.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK EXPLORE THE DIFFERENT ROLES OF WOMEN THROUGHOUT DIFFERENT TIME PERIODS?

My exploration of women’s roles through history was initially inspired by my two grandmothers who were “housewives” post WWII. The stories that spoke to me while channeling this period were quite sad and powerfully beautiful. When I made a body of work in Ireland it became more reverent for female courage and strength. Stories of women are my great inspiration. I love this notion that we are returning to complete and utter reverence for the Goddess. I have a deep love affair with Mother Earth as a female role model. She keeps me full of gratitude, energy and focused on keeping perspective at all times.

WHAT INSPIRES AND INTRIGUES YOU?

Notions of home, God, soul, roots and metaphysical energy which trigger the way we treat ourselves and others is an important conversation in my head lately.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW? DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE FOR 2016?

This time last year I created a three-room exhibition in San Francisco’s Design Center to highlight my path thus far. This year is about the fourth room. I am pretty sure this lies in the southern direction of my childhood and always facing west toward my dreams, which may have been forgotten along the way. I am making one 60” x 90” work with multiple portraits in one that includes animals and landscapes. It is my first collage, inspired by a book I discovered in India.

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Paten Circle II, Marks, Mississippi, 2005 (detail) | Archival ink print

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Exorcism in Indigo Rhapsody, 2013 | Digital stop animation

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Mirror, Marks, Mississippi & Niagara Falls, New York, 2005 (detail) | Archival ink print

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The Sun had a Date with the Moon, 2014 (detail) | Archival ink prints

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Mother Divine, 2015 (detail) | Archival ink prints

Hear Danielle speak about her works at DZINE Gallery’s upcoming lecture series Artists in Conversation: #portrait on Wednesday, July 20th at 6pm. RSVP here.

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