In a series of recordings, mixed media artist Dindga McCannon talks about life, work, and naming her plants
Dindga McCannon is, in my opinion, one of the country’s greatest living artists. Her prolific career, which began in Harlem with her first one-woman show at age 18, spans 57 years and continues to grow. Today, when she isn’t working at her fellowship at the Robert Blackburn studio in New York, preparing for a show, or traveling, she lives and works in Philadelphia. On two hot days in July, Dindga, who turned 75 this year, generously shared time with me and allowed me to photograph and record her at her home studio and her professional studio at the Bok Building. In the videos, audio recordings, and photographs below, Dindga tells her own story.
Dindga’s home greets you cheerfully with a purple door. Inside, you’re able to get a peek inside her mind, with finished artworks, in-progress pieces, and supplies everywhere. Here, listen as Dindga describes her current work-in-progress, which is about Carnival, and giving herself permission to “create something happy” after seeing a Nick Cave exhibition.
Dindga created Blues Queens, 2021, to celebrate great female musical artists. Here she talks about how the project came together and the debt she feels to musicians like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, who paved the way for her to be a Black woman artist.
Dindga has had a long career and has been recognized for her contributions for many years. But she became more widely and commercially known somewhat suddenly in 2020, right before the pandemic hit. A painting of hers sold at an auction and she finally started being able to support herself as an artist.
In this clip, Dindga describes her feelings on the gentrification of Harlem, “my most favorite city in the whole wide world,” and how she translated those feelings into a body of work.
At the end of our time together, Dindga offered some thoughts for today’s emerging Black and brown artists.
All photographs and video and audio recordings are by Elizabeth Leitzell, unless otherwise noted. The audio excerpts presented here have been edited for length and clarity.
Dindga McCannon‘s work is on view as part of “To Whom Do I Owe The Power Behind My Voice?” at Philadelphia’s Commonweal Gallery through February 18, 2023. She is also featured in Issue 003 of Seen, BlackStar‘s journal of film and visual culture.
Elizabeth Leitzell is a photographer, short film-maker, and editor based in the Philadelphia area. She primarily serves non-profit clients in the arts, science, and academic arenas, alongside collaborations with artists and private clients.
This post was supported by a Re:imagining Recovery grant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.