“As a product of an American father and a Mexican mother, I am influenced by the conflicting expectations I have received as a woman within my two cultures,” says artist Nicole McLaughlin. From her studio in Marion, Massachusetts, McLaughlin combines historically domestic crafts—ceramics and fiber art—into striking sculptures that explore identity and heritage, particularly in relation to gendered expectations, traditions, and the changes that occur as generations pass.
In her mixed-media works, the artist contrasts the soft, pliable fibers with the fragility of the plates painted with blue-and-white motifs. Dyed in subtle gradients and earth tones, the loose threads are woven through the sloping ceramic edges and knotted in the center. McLaughlin explains how it’s important that the utility of both elements is removed once combined:
(The vessels) serve as vehicles for fiber. As the fiber flows from, weaves into, or frames the ceramic, it distorts the functionality but becomes a meaningful component as plate and cloth merge. The vessels contain an expression of femininity and an essence of personal and cultural history.
These dichotomies in the materials also reflect the artist’s experience eschewing “the feminine ideals of my Mexican identity,” she says. “I am a force, and I think I tend to push the boundaries of what might be within the female expectation in Mexican culture.”
Currently, McLaughlin is serving as a teaching fellow at Tabor Academy. She sells some smaller ceramic pieces in her shop, and you can follow her work on Instagram, where she also shares glimpses into her process.
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Arresting Sculptural Reliefs by Artist Anne Samat Layer Everyday Objects with Meticulously Woven Threads
In her fiber-based reliefs, Malaysian artist Anne Samat disrupts classic woven patterns with unusual objects: toy soldiers, rakes, and plastic swords are intertwined in the multi-color threads that fan outward and billow down onto the floor. Comprised of a trio of wall hangings and a free-standing sculpture, “Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” meticulously juxtaposes beadwork and traditional South Asian weaving techniques with common items, a project that questions the boundaries of craft and art.
Each section is incredibly complex and infused with references to Samat’s family, identity, and experiences with loss. The largest work, for example, features five sections, with the innermost piece paying homage to her late brother who recently died after a long illness. Flanking the central portion are two stately pillars with pink and blue details that represent her mother and father. The outermost layers that sprawl from floor to ceiling evoke the artist herself and her sister, who are the only two living members of her family. Even the title is derived from advice Samat received from her father before he died.
“Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” is on view through February 7, 2021, as part of the Asia Society Triennial.
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Through his bronze sculptures and public installations, Hank Willis Thomas (previously) examines history’s repetitions. The Brooklyn-based artist critically considers identity, social justice, and pop culture by visually weaving together the remains of the past that surface in present day. “Art is a platform where histories meet,” he tells Colossal.
Thomas’s sculptural pieces include a series of hands clenching a barbed wire fence, an oversized hair pick lodged into concrete, and a gleaming basketball balancing on players’ fingertips. No matter the medium, the interdisciplinary artist begins by examining advertisements and archival images and the messages those contain. “The transfer of a photograph into a three-dimensional expression allows the viewer to delve within a photograph and form an intimate understanding of the ideas it represents. That relationship inspires critical thought about the viewer themselves and the world around them,” he says.
Many of Thomas’s artworks reflect on historical moments, like the Holocaust and South African apartheid, and explicitly connect them to contemporary struggles. Photographs of mid-century Germany inspire sculptures, like “If the Leader Only Knew,” that evoke images of migrants detained at the United States-Mexico border. He ties a glimpse of mining workers to “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a cry to end state-sanctioned police violence, which informs the outstretched arms in “Raise Up.” “History repeats itself, and art is one cultural framework through which we engage with these profound moments, hopefully awakening our consciousness,” the Brooklyn-based artist says.
For Thomas, art and activism are inextricable. In recent months, he’s been considering their critical intersections particularly in relation to creative movements like Wide Awakes and For Freedoms, an organization he co-founded that has been spearheading public projects prior to the 2020 election. “Art is not unaffected in this moment; it is the context that unifies our experiences of joy and even those of growth and pain. Art is the human experience. I am also curious about how people and society will change, and I think of my existence within this change as a man, as a Black man,” he says.
Thomas’s work will be part of the group exhibition Barring Freedom at the San José Museum of Art, which runs from October 31, 2020, to April 25, 2021. A book surveying his decades-long practice, titled Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal, is available on Bookshop, and you can stay updated with his latest projects on Twitter and Instagram.
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In Laura Berger’s minimalist paintings, female figures entwine together in abstract formations. Their dark locks flow with the curves of their bodies, which are posed in relaxed, natural stances. Using tight color palettes of muted tones, Berger works mostly in acrylic, although she’s ventured into oil since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m not sure if it’s related to everything that’s been going on in the world or to the shift in medium itself, but my ideas have been moving in a more narrative direction which has really opened up a lot of new things for me to work with,” she tells Colossal.
The Chicago-based artist (previously) continues to explore themes of identity, community, and connection, in addition to more abstract conceptions of energy and quality of life, throughout her largely geometric body of work. “As a woman, I usually paint from that perspective point, but the figures are really meant mostly to serve as characters through which to explore our collective humanity and shared experience,” she says.
If you’re in New York City, check out Berger’s solo show, which is open from November 21 to December 12, at Hashimoto Contemporary. Otherwise, follow her on Instagram to see her latest considerations of the female experience.
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A Transfixing Animation Utilizes the Optical Illusions of Pareidolia to Parallel Two Narratives About Birth
Created by London-based animator and artist Vier Nev, “A Mind Sang” plunges into an entrancing journey of life’s stages. The short film is centered on themes of transformation as it hypnotically shifts perspectives scene-by-scene. “It began with twenty drawings I had created about different cultural representations of birth and identity. I find that in my drawings I often come back to the same characters: queer couples, mothers, and, for some inexplicable reason, cats,” Nev said in a Vimeo interview.
Relying on pareidolia—the tendency to see objects or patterns where they physically don’t exist—each frame simultaneously depicts two different narratives. “I wondered if I could create a film that merged the stories of these characters into the same shapes and shadows,” Nev said. The characters seamlessly change from fully realized figures into amorphous shapes, animals, and single body parts throughout the illusory project.
Although Nev originally planned for the entire film to be black and white, he instead infused bits of crimson and shades of violet. “The two red moments are particularly special to me as they signal moments where blood (sangue) fills the frame,” he said. “First as fire and then as water, blood represents death or birth.”
“A Mind Sang” recently won a Staff Pick Award at the 2020 Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Check out stills of the transformative project on Nev’s Instagram, and follow his upcoming animations on Vimeo.
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Alberta-based artist Simone Saunders hand-tufts bold, colorful portraits with themes of identity and Black history woven throughout. Crafting vibrant patches of fibers that form eyes, lips, and garments, Saunders casts her earnest subjects against austere backgrounds, which sometimes are marked with “Black Lives Matter.”
The textured artworks serve as a site for conversation, prompting questions about race relations and societal injustices. “Textiles engage upon a search for belonging: studying the Black female body, personal identities, and a connection to Black history,” the artist tells Colossal. “I create colorful portraits of Black people who are leaders within their respective disciplines: the arts, music, sports, advocacy. It’s important to carry forward their message and have their legacy move through different channels, like my textiles.”
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.