Stop Crying Already, 2012 (detail)
(press text to announce recent exhibition in the Everson Museum of Art)
Vanessa German: de.structive dis.tillation, currently on view at the Everson Museum of Art, presents the work of contemporary artist Vanessa German and features instillations of her sculpture, photographs, and paintings. Based in Homewood, the historic black neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, German creates work in response to the reverberation of systemic, institutionalized racism facing her community. As a spoken word poet, activist and citizen artist, German, through her work, confronts the racism, violence, and brutality she experiences in her daily life.
I Love You This Much, 2016.
The exhibition includes twenty-six sculpted female figures created as part of an army inspired by the over 7,000 terracotta warriors, chariots, and horses buried in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, known as the first Emperor of China. German’s figures are radical empowerment objects reminiscent of African Nkisi power figures, which are believed to bestow protection and eradicate evil. When assembled together, as they are at the Everson, the power figures resemble an army of women on the march, described by German as “an army of healers, an army of weepers, an army of protectors.” German intends for her soldiers to absorb the challenges of daily life and create an environment open to radical amounts of peace, beauty, and love.
So Many Dead Black Bodies, 2016.
Each power figure begins as disparate body parts that German covers with layers of plaster and tar, giving each distinct facial features and hairstyles. Once the body is built, German “dresses” each figure individually according to her identity and personality. German constructs their armor from found objects that include everything from discarded clothing to coffee tins and empty plastic bottles to electrical outlets.
Blessing of the Boats, 2016.
Installed with the army of female warriors are other examples of German’s work, including photographs from the artist’s ongoing photography project The Blacks and a selection from her black Madonnas series. German began The Blacks in response to an NPR interview wherein a commentator repeatedly referred negatively to an undefined group of people as “the blacks.” The photographs, taken in Homewood and featuring black women adorned in power figure-like clothing, are German’s way to undermine the often condescending and derogatory connotations of this phrase. By making the phrase visual–literally showing strong, confident, empowered women–German is reclaiming the dignity and humanity of “the blacks.” The black Madonnas, painted on the pages of Anna Sewell’s 1877 Black Beauty, call attention to historical representations of blackness and beauty.
Easily Removed and Replaced for Washing, 2016.
German is also a performer, and this exhibition demonstrates her interest in spoken word poetry and her ability to sculpt language, as well as objects, to create visual rhythm, cadence, and movement. German’s visual artwork transports her stories into the Everson, giving her a voice when she cannot be present to speak or perform.