Tag: Rhode Island School of Design

FEATURE: Gabrielle Bullock, Architect and International Interior Design Assn. President, Drew Lines and Then Crossed Them

Gabrielle Bullock, 56, is the Los Angeles-based head of global diversity for the international architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, an 83-year-old company with a workforce of more than 2,000 professionals. Bullock is also something of a pioneer, one of only 404 African American women who are licensed architects in the U.S. In 2017, Bullock was appointed as president-elect of the International Interior Design Assn., which has more than 15,000 members in 58 countries.

“I’m an architect, so I lead projects 50% of my time,” Bullock said. “The other 50% of the time I’m the firm’s director of global diversity. I lead the strategy, monitor it, lead the diversity council that we have and try to build a more inclusive culture for the firm.”


Natural talent

Bullock said she discovered her natural artistic ability early on. “I always drew. I used to make my own stationery when I was 9 or 10 years old. I believe I had some talent from my mother, who was an artist. Art was my thing.” It was also what earned her a coveted spot at the Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in her hometown of New York City.

Listening well, Part One

Mentors were few and far between, but Bullock was careful to listen intently when she heard someone give important information. One was a teacher named Mrs. Kravitz. Even though Bullock preferred drawing portraits and album covers, Mrs. Kravitz said, “‘You could be an architect.’ I only needed to hear that once. I went home and told my mom I was going to be an architect.” Bullock switched gears and began drawing buildings that she liked.

Painful inspiration

Bullock was a very observant child growing up, noting the differences when she traveled from the relative comfort of her family’s home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx through other parts of the borough that were stricken by poverty and blight.

“I had friends and family who lived in public housing,” Bullock said. “I saw how the black community was living, and it was an embarrassment. I wanted to change that. I thought about how I could redesign the housing environment for low-income people. If the windows were really small, I’d make great big windows. Everybody loves sunshine, right?”

Diversity driven

Bullock attended the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, becoming only the second African American female graduate, in 1984. Not only did it help buttress her belief in more livable architecture, she got a reverse course in diversity when it became clear that the school’s professors didn’t know how to reach out to her. “Few seemed to know how to tailor their instructional approach to people of different cultures.”

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Visual Artist Kara Walker Creates Unforgettable Confection at Domino Refinery in NYC

“A Subtlety” by Kara Walker (Credit: Abe Frajndlich for New York Times)

The smell hits you first: sweet but with an acrid edge, like a thousand burned marshmallows. Then you’re struck by the space, five stories high and more than a football field long. The storage shed of the Domino sugar factory, on the East River in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, was built in 1927 to hold mountains of raw sugar due for whitening. The plant was shuttered a decade ago, yet its crumbling walls still drip with molasses.

But head farther in, and that mess gives way to the pristine: Rising to the rafters and stretching 75 feet from paws to rump is a great sphinx, demure as her Egyptian cousin but glowing from a recent sugar coating. It is a sight so unlikely it seems Photoshopped.

Kara Walker, the sphinx’s creator, appears dwarfed by her almost-finished colossus, an ode to the cane fields’ black labor that she has chosen to make grotesquely white. She has titled it “A Subtlety” — after the intricate sugar sculptures that were centerpieces for medieval feasts — even though it is absurdly unsubtle. Its subtitle is “The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World.”

The work was commissioned by Creative Time, the group known for its public art projects. “This feels like a Cecil B. DeMille set,” said Nato Thompson, Creative Time’s chief curator, gazing up at the result. From May 10 through July 6, on Fridays through Sundays, the public will get to be its cast of thousands.

Ms. Walker is a proudly tall woman — “5-10,” she tells me, correcting my guess of 5 feet 8. For protection from the room’s floating sugar, the artist wears yellow rubber overalls and a blue bandanna with shamrocks. Her face bears an uncanny likeness to her sphinx.

“I just noticed that her nose and profile are me, for sure,” Ms. Walker said. The “just” is hard to believe: In March, when I first visited studio in Manhattan’s garment district, she talked about enlarging the nostrils on an early draft of the head and, maybe unconsciously, pointed to her own nose as she did so.

Doubters — and there are more than a few — might read the sphinx as being all about inflating Ms. Walker’s ego and status. But it could as easily be a sendup of the genius-artist role foisted on Ms. Walker by others. “To joke about it isn’t necessarily to dismiss it,” she said, “but it is to acknowledge the complete folly of that whole notion.”

In the 20 years since her breakout installation at the Drawing Center in New York, when she was only 24, Ms. Walker has become a towering figure herself, an African-American visual artist who has achieved unparalleled global success. Her cut-paper silhouettes and animations, exhibited and owned by museums across the United States and abroad, harness genteel 19th-century imagery to magnify the dysfunctions bred by slavery.

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