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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An Intimate Series About Aging and Time Compiles Portraits of Photographer Nancy Floyd Every Day Since 1982
For four decades, Nancy Floyd has fostered a routine around confronting aging directly. Every day since 1982, the Oregon-based photographer has taken a portrait of herself perched on a chair in her living room, standing on the front porch, or posing wherever she’s spending the day for her series, Weathering Time. A forthcoming volume published by Gost compiles thousands of these images in a visceral rumination on what changes as we age.
Each black-and-white photograph frames a posed Floyd, who continually exudes a calm, laid-back temperament, and chronicles the way time impacts her body, relationships, and environment, honing in on her experience as a woman in the United States. Although the images are profoundly intimate and personal—many show her pets, stints in hospitals, and her parents aging—they simultaneously broach the universal. Floyd devotes an entire section to the “Evolution of the Typewriter,” and the project creates a broad visual timeline of advancements in technologies, fashion trends, and larger cultural shifts.
At the moment, the series is comprised of more than 2,500 photographs, 1,200 of which are laid out in simple grids in the 257-page volume. Floyd used a film camera for the first 36 years of the project, a choice that allowed her to take a blank image when she was unable to photograph herself, and only switched to digital last year.
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In his architectural portraits, Patrick Akpojotor visualizes the exchange between humans and their built environments, whether real or imagined. The artist’s spatial body of work, which explicitly contemplates the relationship between interiority and exteriority, is founded in his childhood in Lagos, a city checkered with traditional, colonial, and contemporary structures where he still lives today. “I saw how a former residential area became a commercial one changing how people interacted with that community,” he says.
Rendered in bold blocks of acrylic, Akpojotor’s paintings encourage introspection as they consider how identities inform the design of single buildings and infrastructure, which in turn shape the people who occupy those spaces. The anthropomorphic structures evoke cubist geometry and illusion, fracturing the body with a staircase, brick chimney, or entire house, and some works shown here, including both “In Memory of the Living” pieces, are self-portraits.
Beyond his surroundings in Nigeria, Akpojotor derives inspiration from ancient African sculptures and masks, particularly “the way the forms are intentionally distorted to pass messages and symbols of their (beliefs),” he shares. “In my work, the way object(s) are placed does not matter. What is important is that the object(s) are represented, and the message is passed.”
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Set Against Lavishly Patterned Backdrops, Photographer Cecilia Paredes Disguises Herself in Stunning Self-Portraits
Whether immersing herself in swathes of ornamental textiles or against paisley-style backdrops, Cecilia Paredes is adept at camouflaging herself in the most elaborate settings. The Peruvian artist disguises her figure by painting her exposed skin and draping her torso in lavishly patterned clothing, leaving just her hair and eyes untouched as she snaps a photograph. The meticulously composed self-portraits, which are part of an ongoing body of work, blur the boundaries between subject and surrounding environment as they consider themes of nature, origin, and transformation.
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Surrounded by monarchs or a blanket of blue leaves, Fares Micue (previously) captures vividly composed self-portraits. The Spain-based photographer conceals her face and instead focuses on the organic elements surrounding her torso. Whether a series of origami birds or yellow and red twigs resembling flames, the natural additions merge seamlessly with Micue, who bends and contorts her figure to follow the shapely forms of the arranged objects.
In a note to Colossal, the photographer said she’s been more inclined to create since the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, considering her work an invitation into self-reflection. “I am a firm believer that how we think and feel about life is how we will perceive reality. We must train our brain to always search for the bright side and find hope among the desolation,” she says. While people may not have control over global crises, they are not without agency. “I want them to feel powerful and (acknowledge) the power they have over their life experience and how to use that experience to grow and learn,” she writes.
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The posed women in Hanna Lee Joshi’s latest series are comprised of vivid gradients: their chests are cobalt, shoulders rose, and palms lime. Created with gouache and colored pencil, the bright hues stray from flesh tones in favor of what Joshi terms “a more otherworldly aspect in my women. Reclaiming the goddess within and exploring the concept of embodying an ephemeral spirit in form,” she says. By rendering their enlarged, curved torsos and limbs in bold shades, Joshi subverts the tradition of the nude figure.
The Korean-Canadian artist, who’s based in Vancouver and recently was part of the group show “Somebody” at Hashimoto Contemporary, is concerned with how idiosyncratic experiences transcend the personal, which is why the subjects are all anonymous. Each work is, in part, a self-portrait that encompasses the physical, mental, and spiritual.
It is my way of coming to terms with being ok with taking up space; in society, in my day to day life. My pieces range from exploring a feeling of being contained within social constraints or self-created limitations to depicting the ceaseless chase for freedom. For me, it is a therapeutic reclaiming of how female bodies are depicted, little by little dismantling any internalized misogyny or any notion of how a woman should be or behave. It is a constant process where I am attempting to redefine how I see myself.
The unclothed figures also share messages with the positions of their elongated fingers and hands. Joshi depicts them with yogic mudras to embody “the beautifully poetic gestures that are so loaded with powerful symbolism,” she says.
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