Apr 16, 2023 - Business

Get to know longtime Twin Cities artist Ta-coumba T. Aiken

Ta-coumba T. Aiken. Photo: Tom Dunn

Ta-coumba T. Aiken has been a painter, muralist, educator, art administrator and community activist in the Twin Cities since 1969.

  • He's also been an advisor on the arts for both Minneapolis and St. Paul city governments.

The latest: Last year, Aiken was the first Black person from Minnesota to be awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in the fine arts category. He is currently working on a series of paintings called "Descendant of Giants."

What they're saying: "[It comes from] the last thing my mother told me before she died on my 20th birthday,"Aiken said. "[She said] African people were descendants of giants, and I think she meant that literally because my grandfather was 7-foot-2; but Black people have also been figurative giants in art, music, sports and a lot of different industries."

Of note: We spoke with Ta-coumba about his work up to this point and what he aspires to do in the future. The interview has been edited for clarity.

How do you define art?

  • Art is a vehicle for telling stories and history, and it can also give us a window into a person's mood or sense of spirituality.

What local artists do you really admire?

  • Seitu Jones, my collaborative partner since 1972. We started doing murals in the 70s and we both bring awareness to social justice issues.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

  • I call my style "superlative realism." Like the dream catcher from Native American heritage, my work is woven from different memories based on what I've seen in nature, the community, how I view the future and influences from other artists and musicians.

How does living in the Twin Cities impact your work?

  • I treat winter as my quiet time and a "hibernation" period where I can create more paintings. I work during the summer, but I like to be outside and to see what's going on in the community.

What is one of your dream projects?

  • I'd like to create some free-standing sculptures and artwork that give people something to discuss.
  • Either that or paintings on the light rail that represent each neighborhood and connect to each other when one train passes another at a station.

Go deeper: Aiken's artwork.


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