July 18, 2014
Congratulations on completing your thesis requirements and completing your MFA with Otis Public Practice. I am writing to offer you the results of your faculty evaluations for your final review. I am pleased to say that you have presented us with a strong body of work, some of it new and some that is an extension of your earlier work, for instance your work with BAILA and your painting. You have used the program to good advantage to develop not only your visual work but to expand your writing about your practice. I am sure we will see the results when you finally complete your book-length manuscript.
You came into the program with a strong practice and a goal to get an MFA, and to use the opportunity to produce works that you had in mind from the beginning. While some of those early propositions might have changed somewhat, it appears to me that your work progressed in a direction already well under way when you entered. The consistency of vision and direction is a strong suit, and will serve you extraordinarily well as you enter this next phase of your work. This is the level of accomplishment we expect of someone graduating with an MFA and your portfolio strongly demonstrates this direction.
It has been a pleasure working with you and getting to know you, a process we started well before school commenced. I am pleased that Otis was your choice of schools and hope that in years to come the degree will be an accomplishment of which you are proud. I think you can feel confident that our esteem for your work will continue and you can draw on us for support as you move forward in your career. Below are the results of your faculty reviews.
Chair of Masters in Fine Arts in Public Practice
Otis College of Art and Design
9405 Lincoln Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Getty Research Institute
Adjunct Professor at Otis and USC
Though initially somewhat distracting, the drumming coming from outside the Leimert Park Vision Theater in the end set a wholly appropriate cadence for Lili Bernard’s MFA exhibition and performance, held inside the historic neighborhood landmark. Appropriate because the well-attended occasion was itself a gathering of community, full of music and life and discussion. Indeed, to characterize the afternoon event as a performance is misleading, as Bernard very generously organized a whole series of happenings that could have filled an entire day: there were readings by Roger Guenveur Smith, Tonya Ingram, and Lena Cole Dennis; dancing by Kati Hernandez and Dominique Annette Labat; and singing by Baba Craig S. Ramos, joined by a company of Afro-Cuban musicians. Yrneh Gabon did a performance piece, and Bernard herself, in addition to hosting, also gave a strong autobiographical performance on whiteness in the curriculum of the MFA program itself. But the tone of the afternoon series of performances was on the whole affirmative, concluding with drumming, and dancing, and a symbolic hair-washing performance, in which women participants washed the straightness out of their hair, letting the afros flow freely. A more academic and critical roundtable on the “micro-aggressions of racism in academia” followed after, with speakers from various fields and campuses. The liveliness of the afternoon managed the unlikely feat of making the second-floor art exhibition, which featured Bernard’s provocative interpretations of European paintings and assemblages of baby-dolls dressed as budding Ku Klux Klan members, seem somehow an afterthought.
Full Professor at Otis, USC and CSU Long Beach
I had the pleasure to witness and partake of the final thesis presentation of student Lili Bernard that took place at Leimert Park in the lobby and 2nd Floor Gallery of the Leimert Park Vision Theater.
The performance entailed a spoken word and sculptural presentation of various actors/writers including Bernard. A sequence of singular works including poetry, dance and critical writing were presented culminating in the collaborative performance orchestrated by Bernard. In each performance iteration the subject addressed included race and culture. The final ‘project’ of the day, was a panel organized by Bernard and moderated by Zeal Harris on the subject of Racism in Academia. The panel was organized under the BAILA mantle, a major component of Bernard’s thesis. The social, performative, and interactive aspects of Ms. Bernard’s work were exemplified in this day of events. Each aspect of the day was considered and tuned to create a day of production and analysis. The inclusion of other artists/practitioners in her thesis project confirm her commitment to a rigorous and advanced social art practice that are evident in her creating of BAILA as well as in her self-designed performances.
Her presentation of paintings (that were upstairs) in the small gallery additionally advance Bernard’s thesis of reflecting upon race and identity via history as depicted through representation. Although these are “political” paintings they perform in a different capacity to illuminate her subject from the more performative interactive events. (In her performances and her event organization she reflects on these subjects via action as well.)
In conclusion Lili Bernard has met the criteria for the exhibition requirement for her MFA from my point of view. This component was thorough and complete with a fully realized thesis subject that was explored in several different expressions.
Interim Chief Curator of Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis
Adjunct Professor at Otis
For Lili’s work I will comment primarily on the performances at the Vista Theater [sic. Leimert Park Vision Theater] as I did not see her installation at the bowling alley. When I arrived, some the guest readers were performing which I thought set a nice tone for the program. Lili’s first performance of her experiences at Otis and the predominance of readings by white males seemed much more rushed than the first time I saw it in the studio. While the major message of the work was clear, I think it would have benefitted from a slightly slower, more methodical delivery.
The main performance of Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure was very densely staged with the ritualistic hair-washing in the foreground, Baba Craig Ramos singing the Orishas and the Afro-Cuban percussionists in the background and Kati Hernandez’s energetic dancing all around. Quite frankly, at first, it was a bit chaotic and overwhelming (especially when I was part of the performance!) but as it progressed the song/dance became more meditative. The Vista Theatre [sic. Leimert Park Vision Theater] lobby presented certain challenges (including a few technical issues) but I was wondering if the extremely condensed staging was intentional or was this more related to limits of the space?
There seemed to be several layers of audience participation: active involvement by those who clearly understood the Orishas, another group of us who knew about Lili’s work from Otis who understood her background/intentions and those who may have enjoyed the performance but would not know the iconography of creolization and syncretization, etc. This relates to what Lili told me about her critique from Charles, Edgar and Rodney who urged her to consider that not everyone (including African-Americans raised in the US) have an comprehension of this rich, underlying content. If she truly wants to communicate these multiple levels of meaning, she needs to figure out how to make her work more accessible to audiences who do not necessarily know the spiritual/historical context.
Finally, I was not able to see Lili’s bowling alley installation, but it looked good in the slides: of course, the tables are very well-crafted and the ads for the hair products are fantastic, but I’m wondering why she did not have video of the Donning and Dismissal performance to connect to these objects? Once again, this addresses context and accessibility to a public that is not necessarily acquainted with the specific significance of the project. I think going forward, this is the key issue for Lili: she is so immersed in her own proliferating work, ideas and ideologies, she needs to take a step back to carefully consider issues of reception.