“Social practice is part of what I do,” says artist Ben Hamburger. “I am pretty influenced by sense of place.” Hamburger arrived in Orange County last August, just as the protests about Confederate monuments, particularly Silent Sam on UNC’s campus, erupted. As an artist interested in painting landscapes, especially southern landscapes, his exploration of the topic felt “unavoidable.” Hamburger uses the images of the removal of these statues as a way to think critically about the status quo. As he notes on his website, the societal influence of the monuments “becomes apparent as people react to their contentious disappearance.”
Not a history buff or “civil war head” himself, Hamburger has enjoyed opportunities to talk with local professors who are “super knowledgeable about the subject.” “It is really cool to engage with the academic community.” He said, “The whole process has really increased my awareness of what these monuments mean and what their removal means, and why and how they were put where they were.”
Hamburger enjoys plein air painting, especially for its usefulness in learning about and adapting to his new home. “Starting to make stuff is one thing. Getting established is another.” With plein air painting, “You become a spectacle when you are out there painting.” People stop and talk to him. Hamburger notes this is a distraction for some artists, but he embraces it as a way to meet people and learn about his environment.
Hamburger is interested in change, fluctuation, and transition. He is also a community art educator, teaching at the Carrboro Arts Center and the Durham Arts Council. His current two week residency has children discussing what monuments are, what values should be upheld, and each student decides who they want to memorialize. Hamburger helps them look at display options such as bases or pillars, build their monument, and make choices about inscriptions.
Some of Hamburger’s paintings from the monument series were recently featured at the Eno Gallery in Hillsborough. Hamburger does not know how long he will be working with this content. One thing he realizes: “I spend more time thinking about this series than I do painting it.”
Learn more about Ben Hamburger at benhamburgerart.com