Tag Archives: african american

Extraordinary Women: Sonya Clark

Featured Photo: Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstylists with Sonya, 2013, Eleven inkjet photographs, Eleven color photographs: Each 28”x 28”,The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

To say that the work of African American multi-media artist Sonya Clark is dynamic and powerful would be an understatement. Throughout her career, Clark’s work has often featured hair and combs in the place of more traditional fibers and art-making materials. Her exhibition, Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, is currently on display at the Taubman Museum of Art and will remain there until May 14, 2017. It addresses the roles of hair in African American society and features site specific installations. Last month, it included a performance entitled, “Translations.” This performance featured stylist Kamala Bhagat, who reinterpreted an African hairstyle on Clark’s hair as she read poetry by Rita Dove and Nikki Giovanni. Both the performance and the exhibition explore hair as an indicator of social status, a symbol of age and authority, a statement of contemporary style, an object of beauty, and adornment.

As we all know, hair is a medium with which we express our identity. It is a political statement as much as it is a personal one—the idea that we can be ourselves while being professional, active members of a society that tells us what is in fashion or appropriate in magazines or on television.

Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013, Silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on eleven canvases, Nine at 29” x 29”, Two at 33” x 33”, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013, Silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on eleven canvases, Nine at 29” x 29”, Two at 33” x 33”, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Unfortunately, those differences are often made into something negative. A trait as innocuous as hair can be made into the thing by which we set ourselves apart—and even above—other people. Understanding the importance of a hair style to everyone’s freedom of self-expression is a key component to removing ourselves from the dehumanization that plagues media and entertainment. It is the same dehumanization, Clark reminds us, that has made it easier to subjugate groups of people throughout history.

“Angela Davis was wearing a huge Afro during the black power movement,” says Clark. “It became a symbol of embracing identity. The idea of celebrating the kink, the curl, and the twist is something that is celebrating a rich history and legacy.”

In addition to hair, Clark integrates plastic pocket combs into her work. She describes them as objects that are invested with a lot of cultural identity.

“The unbreakable comb is designed that way to win the battle against knotted hair. It is pocket-sized to be carried with you all the time,” explains Clark. “A tool like a comb has to do with certain groups of people that grow hair in a certain way. They tell us something about our economic structure. Being groomed means something.”

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark will be on display until May 14, 2017. It is an exhibition rich with history that you do not want to miss! For more of Sonya’s work, visit www.sonyaclark.com.

Extraordinary Local Women: Ethel Morgan Smith

emsEthel Morgan Smith grew up in Alabama but came to Roanoke to complete her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Hollins University in 1990. She is currently an associate professor of English at West Virginia University. While at Hollins, Ethel became connected to the population of African Americans who were descendants of former slaves who served on the campus. Many of the descendants themselves continued to work for the college in a variety of service related jobs, like cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc. From this relationship between Ethel and the community of African Americans, grew Ethel’s master thesis project.

From Whence Cometh My Help is the result of this endeavor. The book features many of the people in that community, and gives voice to those who got lost in our local history. Her work is very important for our community to understand our history and how it still affects people in here in the Roanoke Valley.

Her worked continued as she spent time in Germany. Her experiences there led her to writing Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany. This book chronicles her adventures in Germany and how she experienced it and how others experienced her as an African American woman.

Ethel has also had many poems and articles published and has won many awards for her work. She is currently working on a book profiling people of different social movements and their lives. Learn more about Ethel by visiting her website, www.ethelmorgansmith.com.

 

Written by Krista Knauer