Artist Sharif Bey centers his practice around recontextualizing, a process he undertakes by fracturing long-held perspectives through fragments. His figurative sculptures unify disparate materials and broad cultural references across generations and eras—his works are notably undated—drawing on both the aesthetics of West-Central Africa, particularly the spiritual protectors known as nkisi, and the industrial histories of his family and current city of Syracuse.
Largely crafted around bits of his own ceramic vessels, Bey’s works are on view at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum in a solo exhibition titled Colonial Ruptures, which questions the inherent value and power of objects, particularly as they’re stripped from their original cultures through colonial violence and structural racism. Bowed nails and rusted spikes evoke the artist’s familial ties to boiler making, a profession the show’s curator Sequoia Miller connects to the limitations of work for Black men in the 1960s: “It was one of the few ways that African American families could move into the middle class. [Bey is] thinking about his connection this whole lineage of labor, of production, of middle-class identity, and linking it to African American identity, [to] access to African cultural resources.”
Bey pairs those corroded metals with bits of shattered pottery and a reconstructed medley of his earlier sculptures, which he’s broken and repositioned into new figures. His expressive, earthenware faces often feature a crack through an eye or cheek, while aura-like rings of found scraps encircle their glorified forms. Each piece is deeply rooted in its original contexts and yet open-ended in the questions it suggests, a pairing the artist expands on in a statement about the exhibition:
I am inspired by folklore, functional pottery, modernism, natural history, and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works investigate the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, questioning how the meanings of icons, objects, and functions transform across cultures and over time.
In addition to Colonial Ruptures, which is on view through August 28, a broad survey of Bey’s works is also up through August 14 at the Everson Museum. You can find more of his sculptures on his site and Instagram.
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Mysterious and enigmatic, the wooden figures that occupy Jaime Molina’s imagined world appear to be in perpetual states of meditation or slumber. The Denver-based artist (previously) sculpts small characters atop angular bodies and large heads that split open to reveal inner objects like a cactus, honeybee, or small, worn house. Many are then pierced with nails of various sizes and ages that frame their faces with blankets of spikes.
Molina adorns each figure with closed eyes, a serene, solemn appearance, and striped clothing of ambiguous shapes, and he sees the variety of textures and dimensions as part of their unique narratives. “To me, (facial expressions) are like syllables of a word or a unique note in a song,” he says. “These ideas of isolated language and invented slang are portrayed through the figure’s expressions and the patterns in their hair and bodies. These patterns are like an imaginary quilt made up of their histories and memories.”
His sculptures broadly evoke folk and outsider art traditions, particularly in their use of found materials—a partial logo remains visible on a bench for one character, rusted and bent nails are mixed with newer fasteners, and a gnarled hunk of wood becomes a stage—and he shares that he gravitates toward pieces “made purely for the sake of creating.” The artist explains:
My great uncle used to make a lot of different things when I was younger. He’d paint on old pieces of wood or old saws and even carve things out of wood. They were all over his house and some at my grandmother’s house, and I used to love seeing them. I guess it made an impression on me that you could just make art with what you had around you. You didn’t need to go to school or wait for an opportunity. You could just make things when you had the urge.
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Blending sturdy metal with the soft warmth of wool, Joshua Adokuru winds vibrant fibers around precisely placed nails that anchor his expressive and abstract portraits. The Abuja-based artist always incorporates strings in shades of blue, which fill amorphous shapes highlighting the subject’s face or defining the checkered pattern of a sweater. It’s “a natural color, a color of the sky, a color of the sea,” he says, noting that he gravitates toward bold, fantastical hues for skin tones. “Blue has this feeling of peace, a feeling of serenity.”
Formally trained in computer science, Adokuru has been experimenting with different mediums since secondary school, but it wasn’t until spring of 2020 that he started working with thread. His pieces, which are often larger than life, begin with a photograph of a child or friend, which are then translated into a simple sketch on a wooden board. Adokuru accentuates the figure’s silhouette, facial features, and any motif on their clothing or in the backdrop with nails that are glued in place, sprayed with black paint, and finally covered in taught thread. Because the artist is most concerned with capturing his subjects’ exact expressions, he always completes the eyes last.
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Along with a comb and shuttle, textile artists crafting “tsumekaki hon tsuzure ori,” the intricate and durable brocades that are part of Japanese traditions, employ the jagged tips of their fingernails. Common in the Shiga prefecture, the ancient technique utilizes the weaver’s grooved nails to guide the threads down the loom, ensuring they’re placed tightly together. The “tsuzure ori,” or tapestry weave, has roots in the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), while this specific method has been in Japan for at least 1,000 years, according to Kiyohara Seiji, a representative of Kiyohara Textile Co., Ltd.
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Artist Phil Young twists the commonly-held perception of wood as a stiff material in his mind-bending sculptures made of polished wood and metal. Each artwork focuses on a single piece of wood that has been carefully carved to appear as if it is being stretched, twisted, bound, or squashed, often by visible forces like metal rings or nails. Young works carefully with each bit of raw material, paying attention to its natural shape and grain as he transforms it into a finished work.
Although his work is non-representational, he is able to evoke a surprising degree of emotion through the dynamic pressure the pieces appear to be subjected to. “I wouldn’t be satisfied if all I did was make beautiful pieces,” the artist explains. “I want the people who see them to question what beauty is, so I take inspiration from places you wouldn’t expect to find beauty, including surgery, diseases, wounded or wrinkled skin, and try to make that look beautiful. I think if you can find beauty even in these places, you can find happiness wherever you are.” You can see more of Young’s woodwork on his website and Instagram. (via Lustik)
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Over the past three decades, artist John Bisbee (previously) has dedicated his creative work to the medium of nails. Recent artwork includes several large installations that transform the stiff, architectural material into writhing organic shapes. “Out of the Garden” seems to reference the Biblical tale, with an enormous snake piercing the Fuller Craft Museum‘s wall with its fangs and a fruit-laden tree nearby. “Infinity Pool,” a circular wall installation, features larger spikes at the outer circumference that shrink to smaller nails toward the center, lending a dramatic sense of depth to the two dimensional work. Bisbee, who is based in Maine, has displayed his work across the northeastern US, and his upcoming 2018 show will be at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, Maine.
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