Living with Art: From Elia Alba’s Collection

“Living with Art” is a series that examines the private collection of artists. Our inaugural edition started with artist Nicky Enright writing about his art “accumulation”(as he calls it). We find that artists, being makers of art, have a special appreciation for how experiencing art on a daily basis enriches their life and work.

Friends know award-winning artist Elia Alba has a wonderful contemporary art collection. As an artist, she has exhibited her multi-media conceptual artworks in prestigious museums in the U.S. and abroad. The culmination of Alba's current critically-acclaimed project, The Supper Club, is highly anticipated by the art world.

When I started off as an artist, I was primarily working in abstraction, but my art slowly evolved after the birth of my son into figurative work. The ‘body in art’ has been the fundamental source of inspiration for my entire practice of the last 15 years, and the work that I have in my collection reflects this. Most of the works are by artist friends with whom I have made exchanges or who gifted work to me,a very nice perk of being an artist. From performance art to photography to drawing, my collection is an exploration of black, brown and queer bodies in space. Here are some highlights of my collection!

Rajikamal Kahlon, Pow Pow (from Cassell’s illustrated history of india) 2003, gouache on nineteen century book paper, 7” x 20” courtesy of the artist

Rajikamal Kahlon is one of the first artists whose work I collected. I purchased a small drawing from her during her time at the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2001-2 (at a crazy discount!). We became friends soon after and we have traded 3 times after that purchase. Most of Raj’s work in my collection comes from her project Cassell’s Illustrated History of India. The drawings and paintings are done on unbounded pages of the book of the same name that she purchased from Sotheby’s for $400. The works, at times humorous and at times grotesque, respond to and deconstruct the book’s original intent. With her work she grapples with her relationship to India’s history by creating charged and fragmented narratives to address colonialism as well as the brown body.

Emily Roysdon, Untitled (David Wojnarowicz project), 2001-2007, silver gelatin print, 11” x 14”, courtesy of the artist

Another artist in my collection — and someone I met during our time at the Whitney ISP (2000-1) — is Emily Roysdon. Emily was barely out of the gate when she made this amazing photograph I have in my collection. Part of the series Untitled (David Wojnarowicz project), Emily and her friends donned a hand-drawn mask of David Wojnarowicz and photographed themselves throughout New York City. Clearly an homage to Wojnarowicz’ 1978-9 series Arthur Rimbaud in New York, Emily’s project was a source of inspiration for my own Larry Levan photographic series,which likewise looks to and engages with Wojnarowicz’ series Emily too juxtaposes a historical time — that of Wojnarowicz — with her present to keep him engaged in a queer but feminist backdrop. I chose what I thought was the most sexually-charged of all the images and, for me, the most powerful.

Kevin Blythe Sampson, Africa Weeps, 2001, ball point pen ink, ledger cover, 8”x 14”, Courtesy of the artist

Kevin Blythe Sampson is obsessive to say the least! The last time I was in his studio in 2001 the ceiling was strung with chicken bones, all of which he had consumed. There were a lot of bones which, by the way, he often uses in his sculptural practice. Kevin, an exceptional self-taught artist and former police officer from Newark NJ, tackles difficult issues that concern him and his community. On that last visit, the walls were covered with dense, powerful, ballpoint pen drawings he had been working on for over a month. If I remember correctly, he said he does these when he can’t sleep! (Yowza, that’s a lot of no sleep!!!) I was admiring the entire environment when he handed me this amazing drawing he had done on the inside cover of a ledger.

The title on the drawing is Africa Weeps, and it depicts a very sad yet phallic African sculptural figure, surrounded by a rain of tears or what could possibly be sperm. In the drawing is a quote that says: “The motherland is turning to dust so where will our souls rest now — AIDs!” It’s beautiful and sad at the same time!

Janelle & Lisa Iglesias in collaboration with Bodhild Iglesias, From the Nude Suits Series (Tasmania), 2010-ongoing, Digital c-print and custom hand knit and embroidered suits, 11”x15”, Courtesy of the artists

 Janelle & Lisa Iglesias are two sisters of Dominican / Norwegian descent from Queens! They are artists with individual practices but also have a collaborative practice called “Las Hermanas Iglesias.” As a gift to me for including them in my current project, The Supper Club, the sisters gave me a beautiful photograph from their Nude Suit Series (Tasmania). Here the sisters collaborated with their mother, Bodhild Iglesias, who hand-knitted the custom suits complete with tan lines, to which the sisters then embroidered the scars and tattoos to complete the suit. This work holds a very special place in my heart as I too collaborated with my mom on nude suits, but they were photocopy transfers on fabric. I see this work as a kind of ying to my yang. In the playful yet serious photograph, the sisters sitting on top of a rocky coastline present an image that makes us reimagine or rethink the nude in nature.

Clifford Owens, Tell Me What to Do With Myself, 2005, b&w prints, 5” x 7”, Courtesy of the artist

Lastly, another fellow Whitney ISP 2000-1 alum, performance artist Clifford Owens is someone who has traded with me throughout the years. One particular work that always stands out is a suite of photographs from a performance he created for MoMA/PS1’s “Greater New York: 2005” exhibition titled Tell Me What to Do with Myself. A precursor to his seminal Anthology series he did 5 years later, this performance entailed the audience instructing him what do as they were either lying down on the floor looking at the performance through a peephole or standing in a room viewing the performance through video monitors. Clifford has considered this a complicated piece and for me this makes sense. Here audience engagement was anonymous and, as a witness to that performance, it was most alarming the way the group as whole was reacting to the commands of others: there was a certain amount of glee in causing Clifford pain. It made the performance very charged and the artist very vulnerable. The images in the collection capture Clifford in different stages of movement.
Elia Alba

Author: Elia Alba

Elia Alba was born in New York City, 1962. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1994 and completed the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 2001. Her work has been exhibited at El Museo del Barrio; The RISD Museum; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Science Museum, London; ITAU Cultural Institute, Sao Paolo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid and 10th Havana Biennial.   Awards include: Studio Museum in Harlem Artist-in Residence Program (1999), New York Foundation for the Arts Grant (Crafts 2002 and Photography 2008); Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant (2002), Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2002 and 2008), LMCC Workspace Program (2009), Flying Horse Editions (2011) and Recess (2014).  She is currently working on a publication / event series titled The Supper Club as well as another publication with publisher Photology in Milan on Larry Levan and DJ culture.  She lives and works in Queens, NY.

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