Featured photo: Artist and curator Jordan T. Robinson at GROW (Greensboro Residency for Original Works) residency at the Greensboro Cultural Center in Greensboro, N.C., on March 14, 2022 For the “Temple of Reconciliation,” Robinson uses mementos to create a work focused on healing and resolving past traumas. (photo by Stan Sussina)

Greensboro artist Jordan T. Robinson has been producing the current Greensboro Residency for Original Works in the downtown GROW space in the Cultural Arts Center since Feb. 28. As part of his residency, Robinson is creating a work titled Memoria, which focuses on themes of preservation, letting go and identity through art. The residency continues through April 10 with a reception on April 1 from 7-9 p.m. for First Friday. Community members can also engage with Robinson’s project every Monday from 4-8 p.m. in the GROW space.

Learn more about Robinson, upcoming events and the GROW residency program here and here. To volunteer with GROW, visit here. Follow Robinson’s work at jtrpresents.art or on Facebook at JTR Presents.

Tell me about your background in the arts.

I’ve always made art since I was 3 years old. I got serious about it in high school, and when I came to A&T in August 2010, I wanted to be an architect, but then got rerouted to becoming a curator. I was feeling insecure about my art skills compared to my colleagues and realized that a lot of our education was focused on the art making but not on the planning. After college, I ended up going to SCAD, and I learned about business principles in the arts.

Sketches of ideas for Jordan T. Robinson’s work at GROW (Greensboro Residency for Original Works) residency at the Greensboro Cultural Center in Greensboro, N.C., on March. 14, 2022. (photo by Stan Sussina)

Tell me about some of your past projects 

I started my company, JTR Presents, in June 2016. That’s how I’ve been building these experiences. A lot of my work both as an artist and as a curator has been focusing on the intersection of identity and culture. Transparency is a project that is focused on transgender, non-gender-conforming artists just because of the cultural and political atmosphere. What triggered it was a conversation with an artist who told me that in their social circles in North Carolina, that transgender topics weren’t talked about.

And then I was seeing red flags like Ben Shapiro saying that being transgender is a mental-health disorder. The final straw was when the 45th president passed the executive order banning transgender citizens from military service. For me, that was unacceptable. That’s why I prioritized Transparency, and I’m pushing to finish that project in 2023.

How does your identity intersect with your work?

Right now, I’m working on three statues, or temples, for Memoria and one of them is the “Temple of Reconciliation.” For that, I’m doing research on Saponi and Ibo and Celtic tribes. Those are the three ethnicities that I can find through my family tree. I’m mostly Nigerian and that’s the Igbo tribe. I was told that my great-great-grandmother was Saponi and I also found that I have an Irish/Scottish side of my family. For most of my life, I’ve mostly identified as Black, but I’ve felt connections with my indigenous sides. For the Scots-Irish, not so much, but eventually I want to learn more about that too. So for the “Temple of Reconciliation,” I want to make patterns from those three identities.

Artist and curator Jordan T. Robinson at GROW (Greensboro Residency for Original Works) residency at the Greensboro Cultural Center in Greensboro, N.C., on March 14, 2022. (photo by Stan Sussina)

Tell me more about Memoria

It’s a form of self-care for me. It is about revisiting these objects I collected over the years watching my grandma fight dementia, and exploring what does it mean for an object or a person to be remembered? What is it that determines that? And I don’t want this to be all about me, so I opened up space for the community. On First Friday, April 1, I’m encouraging people to bring relics of their own to be documented.

For me those are the questions I’m exploring: What deems a person worth remembering? It is my hope that people engage with their own sacred objects and for anybody who comes, that they think about what story they want preserved and what relic they want to let go.

What are some of the objects that are part of Memoria and their significance for you?

For the statues, I’m using some past certificates from school, letters and such. I’m also taking old clothes and attaching birthday cards, and we’re making them extensions of the clothes. They’re things I would look at when I was down or questioning myself. I also have an ocarina that my dad gave me on a trip. He would give me different Native American objects, and because I’m part Saponi, I’m still researching those objects.I’m looking at all of these objects and where the narrative is and building something out of that.

I also use those terms, “shrine” and “temples,” because I’m building three that are human-shaped that are based on scripture. It’s about when Christ talks about tearing down a temple, and says how in three days he’ll build it back. He was referring to his own body. So the three I’m building are healing, reconciliation and memory.

Mementos from Jordan T. Robinson’s work at GROW (Greensboro Residency for Original Works) residency at Greensboro Cultural Center in Greensboro, N.C., on March 14, 2022. (photo by Stan Sussina)

How can people do this kind of intentional, self-reflective artmaking?

I would say start with the objects that you wear all the time or feel very strongly about and ask yourself: Why do you feel so strongly about it? Why have you held on to it for so long? And that can help you figure out what kind of art to make.

Look at all of the things that are sentimental to you and see if there are patterns that are clues as to why.

I think we hold on to them because there are so much of ourselves that we don’t want to lose that we embed in these objects and it’s important to see that and how to express that. And record your whole process and at the very least, record your whole story. From the curatorial side, that’s one of the things that excites me. It’s our job to preserve the art, but also to see why we care about them in the first place. That informs and grounds me in my practice as a curator and in the work that I’m doing, whatever I’m doing.

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