Like many Korean families, artist Ema Shin’s relatives maintain a genealogy book called a jokbo, which illustrates their family tree. Shin’s ancestral record spans 32 generations, yet only male members of the family are represented. Born and raised in Japan, and currently based in Melbourne, Australia, the artist describes in a recent statement that “in the society that I was born and raised in, there was a prejudice between men and women, and their roles were predetermined. I always felt uncomfortable with this inequality.” In her series Hearts of Absent Women, she celebrates and recognizes women whose achievements remain obscured by history.
Heart-shaped forms made from fabric are elaborately embellished with colorful threads and beads in an homage to the organ’s connection with emotion and vitality. They are nearly life-size, and the range of woven and stitched textures are captivatingly tactile. Both anatomical and fanciful, the arteries, veins, and ventricles become distinctive expressions in needlework that reflect strength, resilience, and individuality. Since becoming a mother herself, Shin has been particularly interested in honoring women’s lives and bodies, recognizing the anonymous contributions of those in her family and around the world and acknowledging their stories for the future.
Some of Shin’s work can be seen at the Victoria Craft Awards 2021 exhibition through May 21. She has limited-edition prints from the series for sale on her website, and you can also follow her on Instagram.
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How do we get from where we are to where we want to be with all of these constructs in the way? How do we move forward if we are constantly having to fight back? The past rolls in like a fog and clogs conversations about tomorrow with despair.
April Bey, a Black, queer, mixed-media artist, reminds us that sometimes, in order to get free, we must transcend. Positioning herself within the Afro-futurist tradition, she works with a fictional universe called Atlantica. Atlantica is inspired by the alien stories her father used to tell her as a child to explain racial oppression in the Bahamas and the U.S. Now, based in Los Angeles, Bey uses Atlantica to construct the aesthetics of the future—a reality where Black people are free from the confines of white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism.
As a Nassau, Bahamas native, Bey also incorporates the region’s tropical flora in her work. She positions the futurity of Black people in direct relationship to the environment, which can manifest as a physical landscape buzzing with harmonious texture, and draws on the legacy of Black art and literature that demonstrates how the natural world has always been part of Black liberation.
Her intricate stitching of Black people in grandeur also adds a layer of decadence to these stories that is reminiscent of African diasporic cuisine. Food seasoned over long periods of time or slow-cooked absorbs the depths of those flavors, and when tasted, envelops the palette. The process and attention to detail, alongside the historical and cultural knowledge, are the foundation.
This work, like the environment and cuisine, is immersive. Sequins, eco-fur frames, wax fabric woven into large-scale blankets, and colorful patterns are enticing in their pleasure and vitality. The sense-heavy appeal helps transport the viewer beyond the visual and into the spirit of the body, connecting generations across space and time and planting the seeds of the future. Alexis Pauline Gumbs demonstrates this connection in an essay on combat breathing, which our ancestors used to claim their freedom in a world that would not acknowledge it, and Bey conjures this through-line in stirring pieces such as “Don’t Think We’re Soft Because We’re Gracious.”
Bey’s work adds to the long and transformative history of Black and queer people who have subverted power structures through futurity, love, and hybridity. And how fitting? For she knows that to be queer is to live in the future anyway.
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Hundreds of Porcelain Layers Recreate 20th Century Technologies in Intricate Sculptures by Anne Butler
Artist Anne Butler cites the porcelain pieces that comprise her ongoing Objects of Time series as being “witness to their own history.” From her studio in Carryduff, Butler recreates 20th Century technologies like rotary telephones and typewriters through an array of techniques from casting and carving to assembly—watch her process in the video below. Brimming with texture and striking in dimension, the analog works explore cultural memory, associations to history and personal use, and the impressions these items have left on the world long after they’ve fallen from widespread use.
Butler shares with Colossal that each of the objects was an important part of her childhood and that the building process reflects its mechanics. The intricately slotted “Analogue,” which replicates her family’s phone, relied on low-tech templates to create the thin Parian porcelain sheets that, once dried, the artist interlocked into their final shape. Similarly, “Remnant” and “Shift” both layer hundreds of individual slabs into keys and sewing tools that are slightly skewed and indicative of their hand-built construction. These irregularities reference the imperfection of the humanmade in comparison to the precision that’s possible with automation.
As she expands Objects of Time, Butler plans to reproduce kitchen scales and her first SLR camera, so keep an eye on Instagram for those works. If you’re in London, you can see “Shift” at Two Temple Place between May 11 and 14, where Ruup & Form will be representing the artist in Eye of the Collector. You also might enjoy Yoonmi Nam’s worn sketchbooks. (via Lustik)
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San Francisco-based artist Rebecca Szeto (previously) applies a heavy dose of social commentary to her ongoing Paintbrush Portraits. Through whittled busts and oil-based figurative renderings, Szeto alludes to a wide array of historical moments, significant figures, and issues that continue to impact the world today.
She transforms the used tools with hard bristles and stained ferrules—she’s committed to an ecologically-conscious practice that repurposes materials already available—into poetic works that are subversive and metaphorical. The optic handle of “Tapada Americana,” for example, references the Peruvian tradition of women wearing a skirt and mantel that fully covered their bodies, “leaving visible a single cycloptic eye,” the artist writes. “Differing from its cousins the burka and the hijab, it signified a level of discreet domestic freedom and sexual intrigue for women.”
Questions about modesty and dignity continue to influence Szeto’s practice, and she shares with Colossal:
I find myself circling this notion of grace, as the innate virtues and values we possess as humans. For me, grace signals our ability to keep an emotional distance that allows us the fortitude and creative agency to transform and re-imagine the world around us. My interest lies in how we transcend challenging times, linguistic labels and offer up teaching moments for serious play and energetic renewal.
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Artist Simone Leigh Embodies Self-Determination in the Historic 'Sovereignty' at the Venice Biennale
“To be sovereign is to not be subject to another’s authority, another’s desires, or another’s gaze but rather to be the author of one’s own history.” This conviction founds Simone Leigh: Sovereignty, the artist’s new body of work created for the U.S. Pavilion of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Leigh is the first Black woman to be awarded the prestigious commission.
Comprised of towering bronze works and ceramics, the exhibition continues Leigh’s questions about self-determination, historical erasure, and Black femme subjectivity. She explores both interiority and what it means for Black women, who she’s repeatedly described as her primary audience, to move through the world.
While largely sculptural, Sovereignty opens with Leigh’s reinterpretation of the pavilion’s Palladian-style facade. A thatched roof and wooden columns cloak the stately architecture in reference to the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, which celebrated French dominance and extracted and exoticized objects, images, and materials of African cultures. The Jamaican woman hunched over a mirrored pool in “Last Garment,” a depiction Leigh originally discovered on a vintage postcard, similarly rebukes colonialism and the negative stereotypes it perpetuates.
Inside are additional figurative works, including the soaring, abstract bronze piece titled “Sentinel,” which has a wide, sloping head and echoes the squat “Satellite” at the exhibition’s entrance. Evoking the artistic traditions within Africa and of the diaspora, many of the pieces address questions and themes that recur in Leigh’s practice, although they extend her oeuvre, as well. As with her earlier works, cowrie shells make an appearance, emerging from a large, ceramic jug and resting atop a raffia dome in “Cupboard.” The standing bronze “Sharifa,” on the other hand, depicts Leigh’s friend, the writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and is the artist’s first portrait.
“In order to tell the truth, you need to invent what might be missing from the archive, to collapse time, to concern yourself with issues of scale, to formally move things around in a way that reveals something more true than fact,” she says in a statement about Sovereignty, adding in her opening remarks that, “Black women and Black people in general across the diaspora … We often are getting information from someone who had a different intention than we have.”
In addition to Sovereignty, Leigh’s monumental bust “Brick House,” which was stationed at the High Line through May of 2021, is included in the Biennale’s international exhibition The Milk of Dreams, on view through November 27. “Brick House” also won a Golden Lion, the exhibition’s highest award.
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Immersed in dreamlike surroundings, figures interact with nature and participate in enigmatic rituals in embroideries by Michelle Kingdom (previously). The Los Angeles-based artist continues to explore what she describes as “psychological landscapes,” portraying a diverse range of figures in ambiguous activities and settings that are intricately composed from thread. Drawing on the rich traditions of needlework, she takes a more freeform approach to the medium in which stitching becomes a tool for sketching, honoring its history while subtly subverting convention.
Often gathered together, Kingdom’s subjects appear to be performing vital tasks or observing fascinating or momentous occurrences, yet their intentions are mysterious. Her compositions combine elements of nature, geometry, and allegory. In her statement she writes, “Memories, histories, and mythologies collide amid an undercurrent of political turbulence. Entwined, these influences explore power, relationships and self-perception.”
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.