This Stillness

March 28-May 5, 2019
Opening Reception: April 4, 2019
Curated by Jamillah Hinson

Vanessa German (American, b. 1976).  A Love Poem to Nia Wilson #2 , 2018. Mixed media assemblage, 66 x 36 x 40 in. Courtesy Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

Vanessa German (American, b. 1976). A Love Poem to Nia Wilson #2, 2018. Mixed media assemblage, 66 x 36 x 40 in. Courtesy Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago

This Stillness is an exploration into the complexities of Black girlhood and womanhood and the quiet reflections of self that arise from these circumstances. The exhibition goes beyond the contemporary use of a traditional Black American art form—assemblage—and delves into themes of autonomy, self-reflection, and the dehumanization of Black women and girls. At the same time, the exhibition serves as an archive of personal, familial and cultural identity. This Stillness explores mediums often found in the practice of Black American female artists who are re-piecing histories, narratives and memories that were not allowed to flourish in the past. The practices of these artists are the manifestation of the contradictions of living in America while Black and female. Artists Judy Bowman, Tracy Crump and Vanessa German work in drastically different practices—though each evokes strong emotion, displays an understanding of the self and community, and provides a space to examine the fiercely personal narratives that are created.

Judy Bowman, who within the past five years resumed her artistic practice for the first time since she was a teenager, crafts multimedia portraits and scenes depicting Black American life in Detroit’s Black Bottom and the South. Her works, which reimagine an earlier generation, are heavily inspired by the tradition of collage, assemblage and material work in Black American history. A quick glance at Bowman’s pieces recalls work of Romare Bearden, Horace Pippin or the contemporary works of Bisa Butler. Bowman’s work falls into a “non-traditional” documentation of Black life, whether the documentation is in the now or from memory. Self-documentation of communities of color allows an autonomy to be reclaimed by forcing the white hand and white gaze out of the narrative of Black life, history and representation.

Tracy Crump has spent her recent years in and around Chicago and uses her past struggles and experience to inform her artwork. Crump’s work covers a range of styles, from ornate line drawings reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley to hazy gouaches to realistic portraits. Crump’s work began as a method of processing the hardship in her personal life as she spent years of her life living in hiding—an experience that led her to believe it was wrong for her to hide her work. This realization prompted her to meet with Chicago gallerists, show her work to the world, and transform herself into the artist she is today.

Vanessa German is a Pittsburgh-based activist and multidisciplinary artist best known for her large-scale mixed media sculptures. German repurposes and reclaims objects found in her Homewood neighborhood, a community heavily influential to her work, subsuming its discarded bottles, figurines and doll parts into her statues of Black girls. Her layered collages evoke a myriad of sources ranging from Congolese Nkishi, European Catholic iconography and African-American memory jugs. German’s reappropriation of materials is not merely an aesthetic choice, but also a political one. Her “power figures” use relics of urban decay to make visible the toll of white supremacist oppression on Black communities and bodies, particularly young Black women, while offering hope for healing through self-love and social change.

This Stillness allows audiences to experience the artistic representation of living in Black bodies and begin to appreciate their own narratives in the process. With haunting sculptures alongside assemblage and hand drawing, This Stillness gives audience members a choice to either step back and admire the works, the broader statements, and themes upon which the pieces are built, or immerse themselves in the nuances and identities that are drawn out and placed on display.