*EXTENDED* On View: March 3 – June 27, 2021
First survey of artist Sonya Clark’s 25-year career features nearly 100 works that address race, visibility and Blackness
Beginning March 3, 2021, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) presents Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend, a mid-career survey exhibition of works by textile and social practice artist Sonya Clark. Throughout her 25-year career, Clark has become renowned for her application of fiber art techniques to human hair, combs, currency, hair salon chairs and other everyday materials to explore the social and cultural impacts of the African Diaspora. The exhibition features nearly 100 works that reflect the breadth and depth of the artist’s practice. Illuminating the central themes of Clark’s art—including heritage, labor, language and visibility—the show aims to reveal Clark’s radical ability to combine an intensity of handwork and subject matter with an economy of form. Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend is open through May 31, 2021.
“This timely exhibition affirms Clark’s prowess as both maker and visionary,” said NMWA Deputy Director for Art, Programs and Public Engagement/Chief Curator Kathryn Wat. “She uses concept, process and participation rather than didactic imagery to reflect questions and truths back to us.”
Clark describes “mining” common objects, particularly those bound to identity and power, because “they have the mysterious ability to reflect or absorb us.” The artist transmutes these objects through the application of a vast range of fiber-based processes: weaving, folding, braiding, trimming, pulling, rubbing, twisting, pressing, snipping, dyeing, tying or stacking her diverse source materials. By stitching black thread cornrows and Bantu knots onto flags, rolling human hair into necklaces, or stringing a violin bow with a dreadlock, she reasserts the Black presence in histories from which it has been pointedly omitted.
For example, Clark’s Afro Abe II (2010)—a five-dollar bill embellished with black threads that form an Afro for President Abraham Lincoln—is witty, poignant and provocative. The stitched intervention induces a sharp, penetrating moment of recognition and connection and infuses the currency with new, layered meaning. Clark’s use of currency-as-canvas evokes personal, cultural and historical associations with money, including freedom, self-determination and property ownership. As Clark observes, “It’s crowning the emancipator with the hair most associated with Black liberation and black power,” simultaneously embodying the historical absence of Black political agency as well as the promise of it. That liminality—the creation of objects that simultaneously denote humankind’s capacity to suppress as well as persevere—is the formidable essence of Clark’s practice.
NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. It is open Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sun., noon–5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Admission is free the first Sunday of each month. For information, call 202-783-5000, visit nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.