Team Feature: Meet Avery Williamson!

Avery Williamson – Talking Hearts Artist

My name is Avery Williamson and I’m a visual artist based in Michigan. I am originally from Philadelphia. My art explores the archive and the types of histories that we preserve and those that are pushed to the margins or lost or destroyed. My work explores how art allows us to imagine alternative futures and worlds, and the power of color, lines, marks, sounds, textures, shadow and light to transport and transform us. Outside of making art, I enjoy reading, walking and looking at plants and flowers.

Tell us about how you got involved in the “Talking Hearts” project.

I was very grateful to be invited to join this project in early 2021. What excited me most about this opportunity was that I could think about ways to archive our experience of the pandemic with an amazing group – Yo-Yo Ma, Nour Ballout, Tunde Olaniran and students based in all of the U-M campuses.

What do “Heart Maps” mean to you?

I remember in one of our early project meetings, Ashwin shared that “maps can tell us where we belong.” I think about this often. I view creating your heart maps a way of declaring that you belong to yourself. I feel that we live in a culture where there is very little space for emotions – grief, pain, anger – and even the emotions that we associate with happiness.

These heart maps – and the arts as a whole – are an opportunity to make space for the ranges of emotions that we experience in a day. As a visual artist my languages are line, color, form, texture and shape. Even when I have deadlines and a long to do lists, I still carve out time to draw. I always have colored pencils and small pads of paper on my desk. Whether we acknowledge or create space for our emotions, they exist. They drive so many of our decisions and how we interact with others.

It is important to set aside time to check-in with yourself and to acknowledge what you are feeling. It is my hope that this project will make it easier for people to reflect on how they have felt during the pandemic.

How has the project evolved in your opinion, and how has your role evolved with it?

When we started the project, we were trying to figure out the right form for this emotional processing work. As the project has progressed, we’ve identified different channels for the project that appeal to different members of the University of Michigan community. There will be performances, large scale public art, as well as drawing and interview guides that will be available online. We really wanted to consider the best ways to engage people through visuals, sound / music, and written work. I’ve been working on the Drawing Guide with Kristen Drozdowski of Worthwhile Paper and it has been a very enjoyable collaboration.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!

I’m named after the artist Milton Avery. I share my name with an NFL linebacker who currently plays for the Tennessee Titans. We’ve never met but it’s on my bucket list to collaborate with him on an art project.

What would be your ideal way to spend a rainy day?

Lying down, listening to music and drinking tea.

What does ‘community’ mean to you? How has this changed?

That’s a big question! The best communities that I have been a part of are those where there is deep care, honesty and shared goals. The pandemic has reinforced this for me and has also reminded me that you can build and maintain communities even when you are geographically distant.

What does ‘art’ mean to you?

For me art is survival, love and processing the world around me.

Favorite color, song, book and movie?

I love all colors but have been drawn to greens recently. I love the blooming flowers of the spring and summer. They bring me a lot of hope and inspiration. I really like the Breakfast Club (movie). Kindred by Octavia Butler is one of my favorite books. I like a lot of songs by Nina Simone.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I’ve spent the past 18 months in Michigan without really leaving the area. It’s a beautiful state and the more time I spend here and the more closely I look at the cities, my neighborhood, the parks, and the art, the more I fall in love with being here.

What are your long term goals?

My long-term goals are to spend more time smelling the flowers, being in nature and creating beautiful and interesting things with people I care about.

Any social media handles/personal websites where our viewers can follow you?

Instagram: @aisforavery

Featured Image Credit: Avery Williamson

Talking Hearts UMich

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