2021–2022: Debora Martinez ’22 Creates Community
Hue TV, a conceptual and performance work by Martinez, is the President’s Award for Public Art selection for 2022 and will be on view on campus (and on Instagram) for the remainder of the spring 2023 semester.
Debora Martinez ’22 (Sculpture, minor in Global Black Studies) initially planned to become a lawyer but soon realized it wasn’t for her. She then leaned into two things, her sense of humor and her penchant for crafts and creativity, and decided to enroll in the sculpture program here.
Drawn first to large-scale sculpture, her artistic practice has since evolved to video-based performance art that employs humor through “constructed characters and fictional narratives” to deliver social critiques, in particular, those that expose “the oppression within the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.”
A class during sophomore year with performance artist Kate Gilmore, professor of sculpture, inspired her to begin experimenting with live performance pieces. Martinez describes some healthy artistic tension with Gilmore until she felt understood. Using it as an incentive, she refused to compromise what she truly believed. “I can definitely be a performance artist. I can do that,” she says.
Her persistence paid off as Gilmore became an avid supporter, allowing Martinez to take the class a second time to continue creating performance pieces. “I needed to prove myself because I felt like she didn’t see me the way I saw myself,” Martinez says. “I ended up really loving Kate.”
Like so many, the COVID pandemic forced Martinez to approach her work in new ways. Moving online to Zoom, she began poking fun at the platform itself in videos such as “Diversity Training,” among others. “I’ve always been a class clown, so that kind of influenced my work.”
With a desire to create community, inspire collaboration, and showcase the creativity on campus, Martinez pushed her approach to video art even further as she envisioned Hue TV, the project selected for the President’s Award for Public Art.
With Hue TV, Martinez hopes to create a sense of community that bridges the conservatories and beyond. A “submission-based installation,” the media channel hosts a series of contests each semester, with a cash award for each.
Monitors placed in the Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Humanities, and CMFT buildings announce the submission information, then feature submissions for a community vote, and finally showcase the winning video for a week.
“It’s a continuous project that allows students to have their voices heard and provide an environment for more creativity,” and ultimately “be an open-minded space for people to come to understand and learn about one another.”
Make It Social
Martinez turned some early technical challenges to the project’s advantage by creating an accompanying Instagram feed, @purchasehuetv. It’s an archive of all submissions and it expands the audience reach far beyond the people who experience the installations in person.
The first call for videos last fall resulted in 15 submissions with more than 150 people voting, easing Martinez’s initial concerns about limited engagement.
“It was very active. A lot of people were promoting it and started following the account,” she says. “The page has about 200 followers. People are really trying to connect and vote for each other, and it’s just a really good atmosphere.”
The next submission period opens on February 6 and is open to Black student creators only. “The next one will give empowerment and voices to minority groups and have them really promote their videos,” Martinez explains.
Martinez manages the project from afar. Since graduating, she has worked creating art opportunities for people with disabilities at Adapt Community. Based mainly in the Bronx, the work is an extension of what she did as a student.
“We do video performances; we do jokes; we go on trips. We basically do whatever their heart desires,” she says. “I love exposing them to that and also presenting them with social justice ideas as well.”
While it’s not the kind of work she imagined, much to her surprise and delight, she found the sense of community she was looking for. “It’s a very nice community base where everybody’s trying to help each other and really push each other to do things and provide others with opportunities,” she says. “I just love that. I just kind of got lucky, I feel like.”
Although acknowledging how complicated it can be, Martinez hopes to curate more in the future.
The President’s Award for Public Art offers a stipend to one selected project each year. The annual competition, created by former President Thomas Schwarz, encourages the display of student-made public art on campus.