Duane Deterville: For Culture, For Love
Alumni Profile by: Takeema Hoffman (MA, 2015)
In October of 2009 Duane Deterville, then in the midst of completing his masters in CCA’s Visual and Critical Studies program, got to meet scholar Robert Farris Thompson. Deterville had suggested Thompson, a preeminent scholar of Afro Atlantic art history, as a panelist for a CCA symposium he was given the opportunity to help organize entitled “Aesthetics After the Postmodern Turn: Philosophy, Criticism, and Studio Culture.” Thompson requested Deterville to be his escort during his time on campus, which included meeting him at the airport. As the two scholars got acquainted the driver of the cab they rode in, apparently impressed, intrigued, or maybe a bit confused by what he was hearing, turned around and asked, “Who are you guys?” Deterville recounts the moment as a standout memory of his time at CCA and the question he was asked that day is fitting. Duane Deterville is a multifaceted artist, educator, and scholar that one ought to know and in honor of his inspiring and exceptional practice and contributions to the field he is the recipient of the 2015 Visual and Critical Studies Alumni Award.
Deterville’s work and developing legacy encompasses teaching, writing, lecturing, and making with a focus on the study and expansion of Afro Diasporic art, culture, and traditions. At the core of it all is a deep love for Blackness and those who embody it. This love was solidified during Deterville’s childhood. Growing up in a military family he was afforded the opportunity to travel and observe the nuances of Black communities throughout the United States and his Louisiana roots fed an appreciation for Black creativity and Pan Africanist cultural expression. The central task and driving force of his work is the desire to “reinscribe the Africanity in Blackness.” He shares that, “There’s a profoundly vehement project of dehumanization that has been perpetrated on Black people and the most devastating aspect of that project is the vandalism done to our history and culture.” Deterville cites this process of cultural erasure and degradation as an act of ontological violence that he seeks to counteract with his art and scholarly investigations. “So, it’s important that I explore the subjects that I do because those acts of ontological violence threaten to destroy and dismember the thing that I have focused my unconditional love on and I want to work against that disaster.”
After graduating from CCA, then known as CCAC, with a Bachelors of Fine Art in 1982 Deterville began a self-directed exploration of Black aesthetics, culture, and politics. He began to collect and study Black literature, criticism, and philosophy and spent hours researching and absorbing the sounds of Jazz, an art form that figures prominently in his articulations of Black visuality. He also took up the study of Capoeria, an Afro Brazilian martial art, which he ultimately began to teach. His study of Capoeria took him to Brazil where he also began to study indigenous Black Power movements and religions such as Candomble and Umbanda. These experiences were foundational in developing the practice, pedagogy, and point of view that informs his work today.
At the suggestion of a colleague, Deterville entered CCA for the second time in 2007 and utilized his undergraduate experience to situate himself ideologically within the relatively new field of Visual and Critical studies. “You see, before there was a label for visual culture I had been in informal debates and discussions at CCAC about such things because CCAC, during the culture wars in the early 1980s, was a hotbed of shifting ideas in regards to Art History.” During his time as an undergrad Deterville, among others, had challenged the scant attention given to Black and African visual culture within the canon of art history as taught in institutions. When he became a VCS student he discovered the language and conceptual space to expound upon that critique with a new sense of focus and clarity. “The time I spent at CCA enhanced my multidisciplinary practice as a culture worker by giving me a much more refined and insightful understanding of the political power of sign, symbol, image and visuality. I understood much better that the control of the image is narrative control at its most fundamental levels and that I had the dual ability to create images as well as unpack them.”
Since graduating from the program in 2009, Deterville’s main project has been a multilayered exploration of what he calls the Afriscape, the vast sphere of interconnected practices and influences that comprise Black aesthetics and expression. One defining characteristic of the Afriscape is its enmeshment with the realm of spirit and his work often addresses the ways in which African spiritual philosophies manifest in Black creative practice and product. In the spring of this year Deterville held the position of artist in residence at Krowswork Gallery in Oakland. His project “Afriscape Cartography: Sight, Sound, Space and Ritual” explored the framework of the Afriscape through a series of lectures which included discussions of the aesthetics of Jazz, the politics of Black visual culture, and the influence of African cosmology on the work of filmmaker Khalil Joseph. The residency also included live drawing rituals, a subject explored in his thesis work, and an exhibition of artwork by Deterville and members of The Oakland Maroons Art Collective, of which he is a founder.
As an artist, scholar, and educator Deterville is devoted to the work of articulating the rich heritage of Blackness, preserving the cultural integrity of Black arts, and creating a secure theoretical foundation upon which the next generation may build. “The art work and culture work that I most admire and am in awe of are the things that create recombinant Afrikan aesthetics in such a way that it transcends the time that it was created and opens up new propositions for building upon the Afrikan cultural continuum.” His practice and projects are grounded in his allegiance to art and culture as vehicles of sacred legacy. To the visual and critical studies scholars working to find themselves and their way as they traverse the field he stresses knowing your method of navigation. “Are you going to go with whatever the prevailing ocean currents happen to be? Are you gonna’ be a pirate with no loyalties to any particular schools of thought? Or, are you going to find that neglected island of thought that hasn’t been explored and plant your flag in it?” Know where you want to go but know just as surely how you want to get there and don’t be afraid to claim your space however you see fit.
Takeema Hoffman is a recent graduate of VCS. She currently lives, works, and explores in the Bay Area.