"I'm good. Good but not great, at least not yet.
And great is what I want to be."
Early Life and Education: 1941 - 1967
Born 1941 in Lynn, MA. Early on in his life Chandler displayed a passion for both the arts and social activism, and quickly found his unique and inspiring voice by melding the two. During his time in highschool he won several national Scholastic Art Awards as well as the Boston Technical High School's First annual Art award in 1959. While these awards were granted to him for his art, the inspiration for his works came from his may activist roles which he had taken on at an early age. He was a member of the NAACP, the New England Federation of Temple Youth, and the New England Conference of Christians and Jews, all before graduating high school.
After graduating he took two years to work for a mentor of his, Gunnar Munnick, and to work with the Retina Foundation in Boston. This work earned him talent enough to be admitted to the Massachusetts College of Art, MassArt, where he graduated at the age of 26 with a B.S. in Teacher Education in 1967. During his collegeic years Chandler maintained his activist passions, turning more specifically to anti-poverty work. He became a voice for the voiceless and the downtrodden particularly in black communities that were typically overlook by the government officials who were meant to serve them. Once he graduated from MassArt his dedication to public activism only intensified as he witnessed increasing levels of violence against nonviolent protesters of racial discrimination. Chandler never abandoned this cause, and dedicated his every action to progressing the eradication of all forms of inequality and oppression.
Activism Through Art: 1967 - 1970
"But perhaps nowhere have the effects of racism and discrimination been more keenly felt than in the arts and cultural life of the city [Boston]... 'the arts,' in a larger sense, have been the domain of [the] wealthy and the few. Dana Chandler
At the time of his graduation Chandler was already a husband and father of four, living in the run down tennant apartments that the city provided for their unwanted to be squirreled away. Though, when the city wasn't disregarding these predominantly black communities they were having police violently break up peaceful protests over these living conditions and other injustices. One particular police altercation in June 4, 1967 was impactful on Chandler. He was forced to watch police viciously beat protesters, some of whom were pregnant. Though in spite of this clear violation of civil liberties stacked upon an entire life of oppression, Chandler chose to lend his art, not his fists, to the racial revolutions that were spring up all over the country at this time.
Works such as "SaKKKrificial Dance" which is inspired heavily by Henri Matisse's "La Danse," which depicts robed Ku Klux Klan members dancing around the mutilated and burning corpses of black men. While the forms and composition of Chandler's work pay homage to Matisse, the messages couldn't be more different. Instead of the playfulness of naked dancers and the celebration of freedom in La Danse we see the glee of the robed men and nude woman as the revel over their atrocities.
Beyond his painting Chandler gained much notoriety for perhaps his most famous creation "Fred Hampton's Door 2." A pieces that consisted of an actual door which has been peppered with scratches and holes in remembrance of Fred Hampton's who was shot through his door while sleeping by police for his involvement in the Black Panther movement.
Chandler also considered himself to be a very spiritual artist, often evoking Christian symbolism in his works. Often drawing parallels between the torture and death of Jesus and the lynching of black people, usually men. However, Chandler is also inclined to point out that the lynched black men won't rise from the dead, and even cumulatively their deaths don't seem to carry the same weight on a societal level. Even those recognized as great men by the world around them i.e, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr. Though Chandler was not explicitly Christian, he prefered to think of God and religion as an amalgam of all faiths.
Soon after graduation Chandler began work as an instructor in the Model Cities Program consortium colleges in Boston; however, he took his lessons far beyond the classroom. Chandler's activism continued as he began touring nationally with lectures and exhibits which all touched upon the topics of race relations, as well as championing the experiences of black Americans and the condemnation of those who turned to drugs and violence which he viewed as destructive of the body and the cause.
It was at this time that Chandler also delivered a call to "eradicate institutional racism" directed at the Museum of Fine Arts, a claim repeatedly delivered through various printed and broadcast media. This proclamation is believed to have inspired an attack on the painting "Daughters of Edward D. Boit by John Singer Sargent, though Chandler claimed no involvement in this incident due to his long held non-violent beliefs and respect for the arts. This prompted meetings between the MFA administration and Chandler, the results of which was the displaying of the "African American Artists from New York and Boston" exhibition. This also lead to the hiring of Edmund Gaither as adjunct curator of the MFA, while he simultaneously served as director of the National Center for African American Artists in Roxbury.
The Prolific Professor: 1971 - 1993
Chandler's dedication to social reform took him international at times and earned him spots in magazines such as Time and Newsweek. He was also awarded Man of the Year by the Boston NAACP chapter, though in spite of all this his position with Model Cities still ended in late 1970 which was an immediate problem as his family had since grown by one. He acted to fully realize his dream of becoming a teacher, as since his time at MassArt he had desired to use his art and knowledge to inspire and reach out to young people a many backgrounds. In 1971 he took a position as an assistant professor at Simmons College in Boston where he knew he had found his calling.
Dana Chandler was hired to be a general art teacher, teaching the basics of drawing and painting; however, he was not content to merely teach art on a technical level and certainly not through a Eurocentric lense. Chandler brought the same mentality to teaching as he had brought to his activist pursuits and brought his Afrocentric art style to his classes as both a technique and a for of expression.In the early 70's there was no such thing as a black art curriculum, so Chandler went about creating one. Using his own experiences and research done into African and Black arts he crafted a class which fought against what he viewed as the white man's revisionist history and art. In 1973 Chandler's South End studento was burglarized and many of his works and supplies were either stolen or destroyed, for this reason many of his more famous works have no photographic records. However, instead of taking this as a defeat, Chandler used the opportunity to get a fresh start out of a Northeastern University owned warehouse where had big plans for the future of his art. In 1974 Chandler convinced the Northeastern officials to take him on as an arts professor, and grant him use of the warehouse space. Chandler used the space to display his 1976 art exhibit "If the Shoe Fits, Hear it!" making him the first African American artist to display work at the University. He also used the space for a variety of community and cultural events that by his estimate in the mid 1980s had "hosted well over seventy critical acclaimed and aesthetically relevant exhibitions, hundred of socially relevant lectures, film festivals, slide presentations, graduations, and other kinds of community events." Quickly raising the notoriety and influence of the space and his work there.
Just of a sliver of the organizations hosted were: the Wayland Public Schools system, the Black Educators' Alliance of Massachusetts, INC., the Education Collaborative for Greater Boston, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., the Greater Roxbury Development Corporation, Danny Sloand Dance Company, The Aswalos House, and La Unidad Latina. People were encouraged to come in off the street to view what was being worked on. Groups of children were often brought in as well to do art and hear discussions on art and culture.
Chandler's crowning achievement for the space was the launch of the African American Master Artist-in-Residence Program (AAMARP). The exact date of the program's launch is somewhat disputed, however Chandler marks 1978 as it's "inception," though its activities can be traced back to '75. With the help of Kenneth Ryder, the then president of the university. The program started with 13 resident artists and featured a gallery and community space to display the work being created by the group. The organization sought to create an open space to encourage African American artists to create works unrestricted by the outside world, though it was open to people of all ethnicities. This became the first program of its kind in the country, and brought the University and the city of Boston much pride and notoriety. The organization's first exhibition debut on October 4, 1977 in City Hall's Main Gallery thanks to a sponsorship with the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs.
Chandler applied his characteristic passion and determination to teaching as well as he had his art and activist works. He fought with the university over the general neglect it paid him, his students, and the studio space they occupied. While initially the spaces provided to resident artists were very large and for a time financial assistance was even granted to artists, several years into the organization's existence the warehouse space began to deteriorate. Students often complained of poor health from poorly ventilated rooms and dust inhalation. As well the safety of their art was not guaranteed due to environmental factors. The inaction on the part of the university was indicative of their feeling towards Chandler and his work.
As a professor he was a notoriously divisive figure as many of the other university's staff disapproved of what they saw as overly graphic and provocative work. His response to uniformly disregard these critiques and continue to encourage his students to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. Chandler was used to clashing with establishment and oppression and was only spurned to further action due to their interference.
Chandler headed the program and taught as a professor at the university until 1993 when a change new administration took charge, but even in his absence the AAMARP flourished. The gallery space was widely sought after for many artists of varying backgrounds as a location to display their work. As the artists studios were open to the public, and their notoriety grew, the space became host to a variety of world renowned artist, government officials, and members of the general public. As the head of the program and afterwards, Chandler continued to travel the world giving lectures and exhibiting his latest works. As time went on he only further honed the controversial and critical themes and messages of his work and speaking events.
Never Stop Changing: 1993 - 2004
Now in his 50s, Chandler showed no sign of slowing down in his artistic and activist pursuits, now turning to a more global lense. Chandler, always endeavoring to push his art forward, branched out into the medium of what he described as "collage reprographics." Collages of print media detailing the historical abuse and subjugation of people of color and women, in various forms around the world. This included the Holocaust, slavery, and the many injustices over racial bigotry.
While some criticised this change in direction as inconsistent with his style, Chandler viewed this new form of expression as par for the course with his previous works. In this style he was able to illustrate the atrocities visited upon various groups throughout history and the prevalence of that sort of behavior. Along with conflicts over race and ethnicity, he also prominently featured condemnations of the global rape culture, particularly against women and children. His statements were often to illustrate how contemporary these issues are, and how any group could become a victim.
As the new millennium approached, Chandler continued to expand this more global perspective and began to tackle the issues of consumerism in modern American society. In a post Cold War world, America's global influence had reached its apex. The country had grown increasingly wealthy, and that was in large part due to the outsourcing of cheap labor to poorer, less developed countries. Chandler observed this as a form of slavery in itself, as American capitalist needs spread to other countries, their populations became a workforce to cater to the materialistic desires of Americans.
Chandler constructed faux living spaces, complete with furniture, appliances and decorations that would be common in any middle class American household. He then detailed the scenes with artifacts from the various cultures who were now predominantly responsible for the production of such goods. More than an issue of race, Chandler sought to demonstrate that this was an issue of male domination and exploitation of women, children, and the vulnerable. Just as all of his work before, Chandler challenges his audience to reconsider the world around them. To think critically about their situation and the costs incurred on the world that allow them to be so comfortable.
A Legacy of Action: 2004 - Present
Chandler continued his artistic and activist pursuits until 2004, when he retired from his position at Simmons College which he had held for roughly 33 years. He has since relocated to New Mexico to live a quieter life, heartily earned after years of fighting against a system of oppression. Though due to his prolific legacy, he is still a much sought after speaker and interview subject for his seemingly timeless wisdom.
Dana Chandler's work seems just as relevant today as it did in the early days of his career. With conflicts over race escalating due incidents like Ferguson and the increasing activities movements such as Black Lives Matter. As much as things have changed since Chandler first took up the fight, it would seem too many things have stayed the same. His art and the messages of societal reflection and constant vigilance to oppression should not be so soon forgotten. It would seem much of the world agrees as the he and his works have been featured in over 40 magazines, scholarly journals, and books on riety of topics. His art and messages are still brought up in educational courses worldwide, and several museums play host to his works and lessons.
Chandler was not the first or the last renowned African American artist, but his contributions to the world have irrevocably impacted the direction of black art and race relations in the United States and around the world.
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