Peggy Diggs / Galisteo, NM
Peggy Diggs is an artist who, for four decades, has made public work that addresses contemporary social issues such as domestic violence, contemporary life, and race. With a BA from George Washington University and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Diggs was trained as a printmaker but in order to reach a broader public, she has utilized forms such as mail, flags, milk cartons, and billboards. She often collaborates with specific communities to produce site-responsive, issue-specific projects that are relevant to a unique set of conditions. Through these public works, she has printed on money and then put it into circulation, given collapsible furniture to formerly homeless seniors, and distributed napkins printed with questions about race in college eating facilities.
Diggs’ work has been exhibited and collected throughout the United States, featured at institutions such as Mass MoCa, Project Row Houses, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. She has received broad support for her work, most notably from Creative Capital, National Endowment for the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Creative Time.
Diggs has taught at Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Williams College and Berkshire County Community College. In 2013 she moved to Galisteo, NM, and plans to stay and work there forever.
My project at SFAI, WHITES LOOK IN, is the first part of a project involving white people engaging with questions about their own whiteness. The first part of this project is twofold: continuing research with local organizations which educate, and others which are activist in nature, such as SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice. Strategic questions were created and will continue to change with the aid of people interviewed. I held interviews with many self-identified white people which will be uncredited and anonymous, concerning their own experiences as whites. Out of these conversations will come reflections that will be extended out into the public arena. This will be done in collaborations with the interviewees, that collaboration extending into determining format and methods for getting the reflections into the public.
I see racism in the US as fed by whites’ lack of focused and considered exploration of our own “racial” experience. And it is this unawareness that largely contributes to prejudice and denial of rights to people of color. My thinking is that we are the problem, and we owe it to people of color to do our homework, not relying on them to carry the historic burden alone, and not relying on them to educate us. And I want these reflections to enter into public awareness and public dialogue.
Claudia Rankine, a powerful contemporary poet who addresses race and art forthrightly, says “culture really does determine what we think [and] how we think about things.” This is an excellent explanation of the importance of art in working with topics that are difficult for most people to address, such as race, and whiteness in particular. She says, “it’s important that people begin to understand that whiteness is not inevitable, and that white dominance is not inevitable.”
Several aspects of my residency at SFAI were elemental and important to me, and for which I am very grateful. As an artist who normally works alone in a small village in NM, there was such joy at coming every day to SFAI and being surrounded by artists who were also working and talking about their work; I trained as a printmaker, so the idea of “the shop” feels normal and buzzy and gratifying. Second, I really enjoyed being focused on one project and working with a daily schedule, rather than having to balance studio work and other life situations all together while at my home studio. Third, while I spent most of my time focused on interviewing people about whiteness, I let myself make drawings from some of the sentences I picked up through those conversations, feeling less rigid in the orchestration of my work time. And finally, it was infinitely valuable to spend time with other artists exploring equal justice art (as there are few in Santa Fe) and in such different ways from me; that stretching through encounters with others was so very important. These things have definitely impacted and enlivened my practice.