Artist, Educator and Filmmaker

The American artist, educator and filmmaker was born in 1945 in New Mexico. His work recreates historical lines through reference to ancestral cultures, thus allowing not only a sense of origin, but also the possibility of a future for the African American community.  

Caldwell had an early contact with the cinematic scene, particularly as a young assistant in his grandfather’s film projection room, and further on propensity to multi-media art-making during high-school. It was by documenting his military service experience in Vietnam that the artist got acquainted with the camera eventually leading him to study Filmmaking at UCLA. There and along with Charles Burnett, Julie Dash and Billy Woodberry, he would be involved in the movement of the Los Angeles School Filmmakers, later-on denomited of L.A. Rebellion.

His perception of human beings as socialized members of larger communities has prevailed since his student days. Medea (1973), one of the first films he directed, uses collage and narration to underline history’s role in the gestative creation of the African-american child. I & I: An African Allegory (1979) reflects on reciprocity, and against the division and violence stemming from preconceived ideas of ‘the other’. As a cinematographer, Caldwell collaborated on Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification (Barbara McCullough, 1979), Gidget Meets Hondo (Bernard Nicolas, 1980) and Festival of Mask (Don Amis, 1982) - respectively, productions with a spiritual ritualistic theme, critical of the contempt for racialized violence and a celebration to ethnic folk art.

After 4 years as a film and video teacher at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Caldwell returned in 1984 to Leimert Park, California, where he had lived as a student. He then created an independent studio with multiple production and experimentation workshops around video, known as KAOS Network. The artist was also a driving force at the Community Arts Partnership of Calarts, while teaching in this institution for 15 years. For him, it would remain important to stimulate multi-generational participation through visionary artistic endeavors. He has contributed to establish Leimert Park's Art Walk and his Jazz Festival, and the weekly WORDshop and Project Blowed as platforms for rap and hip hop, amongst other collective and participatory events.

Recently, his main focus has been on the communitarian design project Sankofa City (2017) as a testimony to afro-realism. The word sankofa is originally from the Akan people in Gana, and means "to go back and get it” - referencing the importance of looking into the past while building the future. This piece invited residents of Leimert Park to proactively think about the development strategies in the region, and integrated their contributions in a VR simulation. An immersive way of visualizing Sankofa City, which has expanded its experience to a wide audience in venues such as the Pan African Film Festival, Getty Museum and Tate Modern Museum.