Photograph by Leslie McKellar
Melinda Mead Scharstein is delightfully complex. Conversations with her seamlessly glide from topics like social justice and Buddhist philosophy to "grandma bedtimes" and why everything in Charleston starts so gosh-darn late. Though these conversations are not always liner, they are never erratically tangential. Upbeat and warmly engaging, Melinda exudes a sense of stillness, a soothingness that permeates even the most serious topics.
Despite the weighty themes she addresses in her art and her indefatigable work as an activist, Melinda radiates fun. She's the first person on the dancefloor, waving her siganture bandana in the air, beckoning everyone around her to let go of their worries, if only for one song. To celebrate because they can. Forward thinking, yet present in the moment, Melinda is an inspiration.
Melinda was kind enough to make time in her schedule to let me ask her a few questions about her exhibit from/here, the trajectory of what she calls the "New Charleston," and her work with Trans* Love Fund, who is throwing a ladies' arm-wrestling fundraiser this Thursday, December 18, at the Tin Roof in West Ashley.
The opening of your first solo exhibit, from/here, was last Friday at The George Gallery. What was your inspiration for this series of photographs?
That series is very much inspired by themes of love and loss. It's inspired by what I experience as the most beautiful places in our city, and a desire to honor and celebrate those places. The fact that the structures in the series are in danger of disappearing soon makes them all the more precious to me.
"bring it on home to me" by Melinda Mead Scharstein
In from/here, you address the concept of "New Charleston." What do you mean by this, and what challenges does this concept present to our city and its residents?
"New Charleston" is a term I've heard used in the context of the College of Charleston (my day job) and its ability to meet the needs of the local business community. I think of "New Charleston" as being about exclusively economic interests, and that frankly grosses me out. As I understand and experience it, New Charleston is unchecked development and gentrification. New Charleston is tourists before residents, money before people. So, to me, the challenges and the dangers inherent in that are around issues of inclusion and value and access. I get that things change. But I'm concerned about ways that communities can be fractured in this process, and the ways in which wealth works in wealth's best interests. I love this place, but I'm not sure I'll recognize it soon.
"everything on tusk" by Melinda Mead Scharstein
All of those fortunate enough to know you personally can attest that "celebrate" is a word you often use in conversation. I noticed that in your artist statement, you even described "from/here" as a means of celebration. What is the importance of this word to you?
Oh, wow! I already used that word in this interview! Gosh. I'm very interested in mindfulness and presence, in working to be authentically available and open to the present moment. I find when I can do that, so often there's this sort of deluge of joy. Experience can be so rich and magical! I lost both of my parents pretty young, so I've known a lot of grief and heartbreak. But, at least for me, celebration is on the other side of that. It's an act of appreciation, gratitude, and wonder.
In addition to being an artist, you're also an activist. Can you tell us about your work with Trans* Love Fund, a program of We are Family?
Yeah! Trans* Love Fund is a group of people who came together about a year ago to work on meeting the needs of a young trans* girl in the area. Her mother's insurance company started denying her claims, and she was in danger of losing access to medication that is critical to her safety and well being. We were able to fund her medication for several months, until she was accepted into another financial aid program. Now we're working on developing and offering grants to support the lives of trans* people living anywhere in South Carolina! We hope to be able to roll out our first grant applications early in 2015. Trans* folks can be faced with loads of expenses that people who aren't trans* don't have to worry about. Doctor's visits, hormones, hair removal, counseling expenses, legal fees associated with name change and gender change [just to name a few]. And trans* people are much more likely to face employment discrimination than cisgender or non-trans* folks. I see the work TLF does as economic justice work.
Photograph by Jen Stevens
Do ya'll have any events coming up soon?
We do!! We Are Family, our parent organization, is putting on a Ladies' Arm Wrestling Tournament at the Tin Roof on Thursday night! It'll be loads of fun! Lily Slay will referee and DJ Party Dad will spin some very competitive and danceable jams. Plus we'll have some really rad prize drawings featuring the work of local artists. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. and wrestling registration goes until 9:30 p.m. The wrestling kicks off at 10:00 p.m.!
Photographs by Jen Stevens
Describe your perfect Charleston day.
My perfect Charleston day involves biking the bridge, being outside with dear friends, eating way too many boiled peanuts, and maybe heading north on Highway 17 to roam around in the swamp or the marsh.