In her salient text, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe delves into the multiple definitions of “wake,” which span from “the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, (to) coming to consciousness.” “In the wake,” Sharpe writes, “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Largely focused on conversations around anti-Blackness and continued violence, the book is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and what sentiments, practices, and memories linger into the current moment, questions that similarly ground the work of artist Nastassja Swift.
Through fiber-based figures often arranged in large gatherings, Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says. She derives these stories from texts like Sharpe’s, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”
Many of the faces evoke imagined subjects, not relatives Swift has met or seen in photographs, but rather somewhat of “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to make the face in any particular moment without my mind being aware of it.” She always begins with the supple shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that’s intimate and that’s evolved with two more recent works.
“With ‘Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back’ (2021) and ‘Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait’ (2020), everything changed,” Swift says, describing the shift in the process to that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage,” is a bubblegum pink figure sporting a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend down the torso and pool on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, which features a calm face shaped in deep red wool that’s silhouetted by braids and figurative tendrils. Both interpret specific subjects as West African masks and sculptural forms in order to question “what it means to worship someone, and how that word could be reshaped to allow us to honor those around us,” the artist says.
Swift will have a satellite exhibition titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News from June 5 to July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundation, the pieces will then travel for a stay at the Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shop, and head to Instagram for glimpses into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.
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Whether depicting a birthday party or a child’s first steps, the expressive murals by Mohamed L’Ghacham (previously) enlarge sincere, unposed moments into monumental celebrations of everyday life. The Moroccan artist recreates vintage photographs as wall-sized artworks in locations across Europe that portray a woman readying for bed or the chaotic minutes before a family portrait at a massive scale.
L’Ghacham tells Colossal that his relationship to the original images has evolved in recent years from a simple juxtaposition of the site and the quiet, unassuming beauty of the domestic scenes to a more complex understanding. “Those first murals were done in abandoned, demolished places or simply on the outskirts of cities and public spaces. The impact of seeing an image of this type painted with a technique closer to classical painting than graffiti in such spaces created a concept by itself for me,” he says.
Today, the Barcelona-based artist sources reference photographs and home videos from neighbors and city archives to connect more directly with the local culture. While his style is unchanged—L’Ghacham continues to use loose brushstrokes and layers of muted tones to achieve the vintage aesthetic—the streetside works reflect those living nearby. “I think (the murals) can be very symbolic and that many people can feel represented even if they are not necessarily the protagonists portrayed,” he says. “Until now my intention was to pay tribute and give visibility to situations that we all live in and that maybe sometimes we find it hard to value.”
Starting next month, L’Ghacham will be traveling around Europe for a few projects and has a solo exhibition at PDP Gallery slated for this summer, which will be comprised of the smaller paintings he’s been sharing on Instagram.
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Malmö, Sweden-based artist Miles Johnston portrays subjects whose figures are in states of flux, whether through fragmented bodies, multiplied faces, or limbs contorted into impossible positions. Often depicting Johnston (previously) or his partner, the graphite portraits distort typical anatomy in a way that balances the familiar with the unknown and visualizes the thoughts and emotions otherwise hidden inside the mind.
Whether set against a trippy backdrop or quiet beach, each piece portrays the experience of the body “through a kind of internal metaphorical language,” the artist says. He explains further:
We don’t directly experience the actual biochemical facts of what is happening in our bodies, hormones secreting, weird little proteins and neurons doing whatever it is they do. Instead, we have a whole language of expressions like stomach tied up in knots, feeling empty, torn in two, burning with anger, etc… I’m aiming for this sort of naive direct representation of what things feel like instead of a literal representation of how they look from the outside.
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Whether folded into a box, bound by cords, or fragmented and stacked, the nondescript figures that Paris-based artist Khaled DAWWA sculpts experience some form of confinement. Their bodies are contorted into cages or squeezed into each other’s arms, and each looks down or away, a position that makes them appear to lack the power and agency to be free. Cast in dense blocks, the introspective sculptures reflect the artist’s preference for terracotta and bronze. “All that we received from the old history is by these two materials,” he says.
Most of the pieces shown here are part of the Compressed series, which were born out of the artist’s own experiences. He tells Colossal:
This project was inspired by my having lived in different places during a short period: detention and compulsory military service in Damascus for four months, then Lebanon for one year and finally arriving to France. Upon arrival in France, at first, I felt liberated from it all. Then I realized that the French live their lives in a complex system that turns them into “compressed people” and that we had this in common. This is the first series in which I look at people beyond Syria.
If you’re in Paris, you can see Khaled DAWWA’s artwork at numerous spots around the city: his piece titled “Les Passants” will be installed in a public spot in Clamart in May 2021, and he’s also participating in Beautify Paris in June of this year. Currently, he is part of Répare, Reprise at the International City of Arts, a group show that’s up through July 10, and is in the process of making a film about the artworks on display. Explore more of the artist’s compacted sculptures on Instagram.
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150,000 Hearts Representing Lives Lost to Coronavirus in the UK Line the COVID Memorial Wall in London
Nearly 500 meters of small, red hearts will soon cover an expanse of concrete facing the River Thames in London. Now dubbed the National COVID Memorial Wall, the poignant display publicly commemorates the 150,000 lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom so far. Each heart represents one victim, with short messages of grief, love, and remembrance scribed by loved ones in their centers. It takes about ten minutes to walk by the entirety of the project, which serves as a staggering reminder of the virus’s devastation.
Coordinated by COVID-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, the two-meter-high wall is situated between the Westminster and Lambeth bridges, opposite the Houses of Parliament. According to The Guardian, Matt Fowler helms the ongoing project, which he began a few weeks ago by painting 15,000 hearts on the facade. His father died from the virus last April. “When you see all the hearts and think what each one represents, it’s absolutely frightening,” Fowler says.
Organizers still are raising money for supplies to complete all 150,000 hearts—although official government statistics currently reflect 149,000 deaths, which is the largest loss in Europe—that volunteers will continue to paint to account for all victims. Talks are also in the works about preserving the memorial to ensure that it’s a permanent fixture in London.
This past weekend, photographer Henri Calderon captured images for Colossal that document the memorial’s progress, which you can see below.
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Massive Curved Vaults Mimicking Traditional Kilns House a Jingdezhen Museum Dedicated to Porcelain Production
Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, China is widely recognized as the porcelain capital of the world with a more than 2,000-year history of producing prized ceramics. As an homage to that tradition, architects from Studio Zhu-Pei constructed an open-air structure with towering arches mimicking traditional kilns. The expansive brick vaults now house the northern city’s Imperial Kiln Museum, which sits adjacent to the production sites used during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
To preserve and demarcate the existing ruins on the grounds, Studio Zhu-Pei configured the new building around the remnants, like courtyards and monuments embedded in the ground, in a way that brings together history and contemporary culture in a single space. Each of the curved structures, which is comprised of both recycled and new bricks, differs in volume and length, allowing light to stream in at varying angles throughout the day. The museum’s entrance is on the ground level so that the “experience of people entering it is the same as the past artisans,” the architects say in a statement.
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