ARTIST SONYA CLARK
Examines Race and American Identity
text and images courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery
Sonya Clark, Care Taker, 2018, gold leaf, found leather, 28 pieces, dimensions vary, framed size: 11″ x 11″ each approximately.
Now is an urgent moment for conversations about American identity and the ongoing role of racism in our culture. This fall,, Lisa Sette Gallery will exhibit works that present a new scholarship of American identity, a matrix formed by our disparate human narratives and our shared human experience. Textile and social practice artist Sonya Clark tests the interactions between elementary human materials—textiles and text, storytelling and visual symbols such as flags and currency, beads and human hair—as a method of revealing our national history and collective character.
Any examination of American identity must address the legacy of slavery and the ensuing, ongoing mistreatment of African and African-American bodies. Clark’s Slave Collar series is an unflinching look at slavery and its historical origins: words that encapsulate the practice of dehumanization and slavery are inscribed in a series of punctures through handmade cotton rag paper.
Clark explains that these haunting works, “are based on the parallel legacies of Empire building through slave labor in the Roman Empire and in the USA. Many of the enslavement practices of ancient Rome were employed in the Americas, including things like slave collars.”
Sonya Clark, Slave Collar, pricked Khadi cotton paper, 9” x 12”.
Sonya Clark, Unraveling, cotton Confederate battle flag, 70″ x 36″ x 7”, Edition of 10.
Sonya Clark, Interwoven, unwoven and rewoven commercially printed flags, 5″ x 5″.
Community and craft as an iterative function of the American experience is integral to Clark’s experience as a first-generation immigrant. Her story encompasses a vast breadth of identities that exemplify a resident of the American continents—raised in Washington DC by a Jamaican mother and father from Trinidad and Barbados, Clark’s distant ancestors had in turn, survived the carriage from West Africa on a slaver’s ship. A Scottish great-grandfather connected the family to Europe, and these days Clark travels widely among these diasporic branches of her family: to Europe and the Caribbean, Africa and the US. It is a family story with a unique vantage on the notion of American identity: forged through slavery, immigration, love, and an intergenerational linking of cultures.
In our family stories, Clark says, “the most personal becomes universal,” and at the present moment of our American story, this rendering from the personal to the universal feels particularly urgent. For Clark’s part, addressing the violence and iniquities borne by African-Americans in our society is only the first sentence in the story.