LifeBeat Follow-up: Alanna Airitam
Welcome to the next installment of my follow-up conversations with guests of “LifeBeat: Conversations with Purposeful Womxn.” The next spotlight is on Alanna Airitam.That evening in August 2020 (watch the original episode) when I spoke with Alanna, there was quite a bit of technical difficulties on both sides of our conversation. That didn’t stop us from getting to know Alanna a little bit and to hear about the difficult, yet profound, work she is doing. We also got to laugh and get to know her process just a little bit. The following Q&A was conducted over email, and Alanna provided her answers on Oct 6, 2021.
Lizzie: If you recall, there were some technical difficulties, so you missed some of the first questions, so I’ll ask now: What are you currently reading, listening to, or binge watching?
Alanna: I do remember the technical difficulties. I assumed it must have been from everyone suddenly working and doing school from home and sucking up all the bandwidth. As was the case for most people, I spent a good deal of time binge watching whatever I could find. I’m usually pretty picky about the types of media I consume, but my last year’s consumption of media was akin to giving up and deciding to eat McDonald’s for dinner every night. I did not do that, but some of the stuff I watched I’m pretty sure was just not good for me. But I’m getting back into healthier, or at least more productive, media consumption. I’m currently watching Scenes From a Marriage on HBO, reading How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz, Listening to “Therapy for Black Girls” podcast, and because Zoom continues to be our form of gathering, I’ve been attending lots of artists talks which is always inspiring.
As far as habits you acquired or things you did during quarantine (at the time of the interview, we were five months into the lockdown), you said you had started organizing your studio and updating your website. Then you went into how you were researching for an upcoming project that would take you to North Carolina. I know you went there, but can you provide an update on that project? How is it going about buying the land that you were interested in?
Covid has been a major obstacle to overcome on this project. Not only do I need to travel, but there are other people’s schedules I am working around, Some of these people are older and at much higher risk when traveling, so I work when they are ready. I have mostly been working on it from my studio [in Arizona] doing a lot of research and making the connections I need to make so when I get back out there I can hit the ground running. At the moment, I am geared up for the project by hand making a large canvas backdrop that will be stained with the soil from the land, a new medium format camera with a custom-made lens to provide an older photography look, an 8×10 camera with a custom lens, a documentary filmmaker interested in following the project and documenting the process, and loads of research into the people and the place.
The pandemic has caused me to move much slower than I wanted to move on this. That not only has tested my patience but has brought in all the doubts and fears that come with making such challenging work. I’ve talked myself out of making it several times and have also talked myself back into it. I understand this is important work and these stories need to be told. If anything, watching the state of this country continue to teeter-totter on the fence of extreme fundamentalism and progressiveness, it makes it even more important that we hear these stories. I am even more convinced if we don’t revisit the past and understand where we’ve come from, we will never be able to truly move forward in freedom. I’m still approaching this work with determination while also practicing the art of patience.
The answer you gave to the question about things you missed in isolation was your friends. How have things changed and/or stayed the same through the evolution of the lockdown and what we now face with many of the restrictions lifted?
Well, I know some restrictions have been lifted, but with so many unvaccinated people still refusing to wear masks and variants springing up, I’m still wearing my mask. I’m still feeling uneasy about being on planes or indoors with lots of people so visiting family and friends isn’t as easy as it was pre-pandemic. I’ve driven cross country a couple of times to drop work off or pick work up at galleries and museums and used it as an excuse to visit friends and family. I’ve only recently started hugging some people again. The whole thing still feels so weird. I’ve really leaned into the social recluse vibe putting most of my attention into my work. I do miss being social though. Mostly, I miss gathering to listen to music or watch performances. Most of my interactions seem to be on computers these days and there is no way that could ever replace the oxytocin we get from sitting next to someone. I seem to move back and forth between feeling like I want to be social, so I don’t know how I’m feeling about all this yet. I caught Covid once already, so I know what it feels like, and I am absolutely uninterested in experiencing that again.
Finally, your answer to what was bringing you joy was your relationship and how the lockdown made you both get to know each other on new levels. Plus your family relationships also were given new, more profound meaning. Is all of that still true? Do you feel like you’re back in the grind? What is bringing you joy now?
The time we had to ourselves during the pandemic was actually really good for me. I was able to take some time and go into my life to unpack some things I’ve always thought I would process once I was settled; once I was financially secure; once I felt like all the other problems in my life were gone. I was basically putting some things on the backburner because I just didn’t want to dive into it. This is childhood stuff… the stuff that makes me who I am. This pandemic didn’t give me my normal escapes and distractions, so it came up begging to be acknowledged. All this past pain and trauma that I now have to look at with honesty and clarity and compassion. It’s been hard. And with stuff like this, it’s easier for me to make work around it. That helps me process complicated, hard, emotional things.
My relationships are still a source of healing and joy, but there are things I’ve created “workarounds” for that I would rather not rely on anymore. I want to shed these old shells I’ve built up around myself so I can be more authentic with my loved ones. We’re all just works in progress. But what’s bringing me joy right now is finding time and space to reconnect with my relationships, build new work, and taking care of myself.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about what’s happened to you since we talked in August 2020?
After August 2020, I’ve had a couple of major acquisitions and some great exhibitions with galleries, museums, and art institutions across the country. I upgraded all my equipment from Canon to Fujifilm and Bowens to Profoto so I’ve been spending time learning new workflows and systems which means lots of testing, so pretty much anyone who stops by the studio, from the UPS delivery guy to family members, are getting roped into a portrait or two.
I’m also playing around with new mediums and experimenting and exploring different materials and ways to present photography. Currently, I’m preparing for the American Renaissance exhibition which is a two-person show with myself and Wayne Martin Belger that opens October 27 at the Bernal Gallery in Tucson. [This show runs until December 10.]
I also am preparing for a very busy 2022 with a full year of back-to-back solo museum exhibitions as well as continuing ongoing projects that I hope to be able to share soon.
Thank you so much, Alanna, for sharing all that you’re working on, both professionally and personally. We wish you continued strength, stamina, and serenity.
To keep track of all that Alanna is working on, please visit her website at https://www.alannaairitam.com/about or follow her on Instagram (@alannaairitam).
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