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Artist Spotlight: How Martin Hawk Uses his Artistry as a Form of Identity

"Your palette is born from the reality that your identity is formed."

Photo provided by Martin Hawk

Days after May 30, 2020, Martin Hawk reached for his camera and headed out the door—never expecting what would come from the other side of the lens. Over the past year, Hawk captured moments of anguish, panic and at times, hope during yet another pivotal moment for Rochester and the Black Lives Matter movement. Being a Black, Asian and Indigenous man, Hawk's identity is shown through his filmmaking in the documentary A Litany For Survival, his electronic musical project "midnight" and ongoing exhibition Press Gradient, which is centered around his photography that captures the Black experience.


A Litany for Survival

Photo provided by Martin Hawk

While his Rochester-focused documentary A Litany For Survival is Hawk's first experience in filmmaking, artistry is nothing new to him. Hawk's film was accepted into last year's Portland Film Festival and he describes his artistry as the drive behind exploring and sharing the inner conflict of emotions within himself.


"Your palette is born from the reality that your identity is formed," Hawk said. "You use all of the joy, the resilience, the pain, the anguish, the depression, all of it. I wake up and I choose violence, what does that mean? It means that I try to take

the inherent conflict that is there, regardless of whether or not I want it and try to utilize it as a tool to create my art as a motivation. James Baldwin said to be Black and aware in America is to be in a constant state of rage, and that's something that I've had to understand, because it was always there, but being able to understand that has been empowering in many ways. I can't change it, or I could, but perhaps parts of me don't necessarily want to change it because it's who I am."


Throughout the making of his film, Hawk felt connected to his subjects and their stories. Despite his social anxiety, he saw that people were working together towards the same goal, which inspired him to continue the work.


"Over time, bonding and getting to truly know about people like Stanley Martin, getting to meet, listen, and interview Joe Prude, building these relationships, not just for the documentary, but on a personal level, has been a beautiful life amidst compounding tragedies," Hawk said.


The Identity and Expression Behind Midnight

Photo provided by Martin Hawk

Before becoming a filmmaker, Hawk used his music career as a tool of expression in a space that wasn't defined. Along the way, his solo moniker "midnight" faced industry issues ranging from releasing music that best reflects himself, finding the most suitable label and ownership. Hawk studied music Musical Theatre at Nazareth College before ultimately deciding to drop out and transition his music journey to New York City. There, he performed with music groups while touring across the nation, but found that the space was very limited when it came to his skin complexion.


"I was either too light for some or too dark for others," Hawk said. "I found it very based on preconceived stereotypes of what I should be as opposed to who I actually was."


While in NYC, Hawk met music crowds that helped him realize producing as a viable option and worked with the Buffalo-based production studio Elixir, which boosted back his confidence with making music.


"The music industry is archaic in the way that corporate labels deal with artists," Hawk said. "After coming close to signing a couple of publishing and label deals, I decided to go with a much smaller global one where I own all of my masters. That was important to me."


The Creation of Pressure Gradient and its Future

Photo provided by Martin Hawk

Hawk's vision of the exhibition named Pressure Gradient stems from the name of one his songs, which he describes as a "plea." According to Hawk, the single evolved into the development of a Black perspective that hasn't been told before.


"The human experience should not be so easily digestible," Hawk said. "I think it's through these multiple mediums of art that we can really make something that will stick with you as you go to bed and after you wake up, in the same way, that being Black, the horror and the whole experience goes to sleep and wakes up with that feeling. If I can create art through Pressure Gradient that has that same effect then that will be a success."


Hawk was recently one of six local Black artists chosen to participate in the Season of Warhol: Black Artists Engagement Project, a Memorial Art Gallery project focused on the Andy Warhol exhibitions and their relation to the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement. Hawk is working with the State Street UUU Art Collective to install his exhibition Pressure Gradient which he hopes will be ready by this year. In the next year and a half, Hawk expects to have the full-version of the film finished, along with its other multi-media components including a book and full-length album.

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