Danielle Abrams, performance artist and Tufts professor, dies at 54 – The Boston Globe | Candle Made Easy

“The shared realities I witnessed were a map of how to traverse my multiracial and queer identity: black, Jewish, and a butch dyke,” she said. These experiences later led her to perform “the idiosyncrasies of my white, Jewish, and African-American grandmothers alongside a butch entrepreneur and a teenage self who longed to pass for Greek” in a play.

Ms. Abrams, a professor of practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Tufts, died at her home in Boston on April 21 at the age of 54. The test results, completed in June, showed that the cause was complications of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. said her family.

“She was very adept at giving her students a lot of agency and power,” said Mary Ellen Strom, an artist who is a professor of media arts practice at the school.

“You could say she paved the way for younger artists of color and queer artists and artists with multiracial identities,” said Strom, who worked with Ms. Abrams on “Rights Along the Shore,” which examined the impact and legacy of segregated public swimming areas in South Boston, Washington, DC and New Orleans, and opened earlier this year at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Ms. Abrams “showed and embodied so much courage in her work to speak up about difficult, complex issues,” Strom said. “She’s been a huge inspiration to a lot of younger artists, and that’s an important part of her legacy.”

As a person of color who was sometimes perceived as black or white or neither, depending on who was looking, “my fair ‘temporary’ skin defies the assumptions society uses,” Ms. Abrams said in a Boston last year Art Review Interview.

“I’ve spent my life vacillating between white, Jewish, and black access rights, privilege, language, and cultural codes,” she said. “Because of my racial ambiguity, I often witness racism and anti-Semitism. I am grateful for this proof. It is fodder for my work.”

As Ms. Abrams dabbled in books, films, paintings, music and stand-up comedy, “she had a rare ability to bring historical research and her own experiences together,” said Jeannie Simms, a colleague who is a professor of practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Tufts. “The breadth of her work was so broad and deeply American.”

In her performance piece “Routine,” for example, Ms. Abrams appropriated the role of a male borscht-belt comedian with “his barrage of conventionally sexist, homophobic and self-deprecating jokes,” she told Big Red & Shiny.

“In between jokes, I would dip myself in a 25-gallon bucket of borscht and blush my face. The penetrating stain of the beet soup could be understood in many ways – as an embarrassment to this Jewish heritage or as a kind of bloodletting or purification – a mikveh.”

Ms. Abrams was born on March 30, 1968 and grew up in Flushing, Queens, the daughter of Stephanie Belkin Abrams, a teacher and consultant, and Eddie Abrams, a mover and driver for the Post Office.

“I lived across the street from a zipper factory and a polluted creek, down the street from an amusement park flooded with tall weeds, and less than a mile from the monumental ruins of the 1964 World’s Fair,” Ms. Abrams recalled in an interview from the year 2018 published on the BostonVoyager website.

“I haven’t lost my taste for the many epic debris cities and the rusting emblems of American hope and bravery,” she added.

Ms. Abrams graduated from John Bowne High School in Flushing and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Queens College before earning a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California, Irvine.

In addition to teaching high school art in New York City, she had taught at the University of Michigan, Goddard College, and the City University of New York before joining Tufts’ faculty, where “she was really at the peak of her art.” career stood”. mother said. “It was exciting to see her thrive in art.”

In the Big Red & Shiny interview, Ms. Abrams said a professor at Irvine encouraged her to “explore the possibilities of expressing contradictions in person-based performances—particularly when those contradictions are embodied by the same performer.”

In recent years, an era in which race has become an increasingly important policy focus in the United States, “Danielle has become increasingly committed to expanding research efforts to include policymakers and creating projects that unleash the potential have to bring about change,” Strom said. “It’s interesting to be at this moment in 2022 with the death of a very important American performance artist and to reflect on her legacy.”

Simms said she was “so grateful to have known her and been exposed to the way she thinks and works and to see her perform. Her deep commitment to using her own body and identities to expose the racism, sexism and homophobia of the dominant culture took a lot of courage and energy.”

In addition to her mother and father, Ms. Abrams is survived by her younger sister, Lauren, who also resides in Flushing.

A celebration of the life and work of Ms. Abrams is announced.

“Beyond her amazing legacy as an artist and a teacher, there is a loss. Her love and generosity and embracing spirit for the many people whose lives have been enlightened by Danielle will be lost,” said Ryn Hodes, a teacher, writer and social worker in Florence who was Ms. Abrams’ partner for five years. when they lived together in Brooklyn, NY more than a dozen years ago. They have remained part of each other’s adopted family ever since.

“Danielle was one of the most observant and penetrating thinkers I’ve ever known,” said Hodes. “Her ability to put pieces together in a way that was incredibly funny, deeply moving, amazing and relevant never stopped.”

At a student-led vigil following the death of Ms. Abrams, one of her teachers recalled that, according to a Tufts publication, she had “absolutely the kindest ear.”

“She gave each of us a voice,” said another student, “especially when we felt silenced, when we felt belittled or ignored.”

In a 2020 interview published on the Artistic Fuel website, Ms. Abrams said that “teaching is an achievement. I use the same skills that I ask of my students. I remember breathing; stand behind my words; and present a range of gestures, voices, people and methods.”

“As a professor,” she added, “I assume that every student who comes into my class has grief, confusion, inner conflict, anger, and myriad reactions that I will learn from. We come together with the imperative to make art.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.

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