Vanessa German confronts social issues of race and violence at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

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Vanessa German confronts social issues of race and violence at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Vanessa German, photo by Brian Cohen.

HARTFORD, CONN.- The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art will feature Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German’s exhibition “i come to do a violence to the lie” in the 174th installation of its ongoing MATRIX contemporary art program, from June 9 – Sept. 4, 2016.

Vanessa German lives in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, where crime, drugs, and gun violence continually wreak havoc on the historically African-American urban community, and where many residents have personal connections to the victims of violence. In response to her life experiences, German creates inspiring sculptures in the tradition of African “Nkisi” power figures, divine protective objects thickly encrusted with nails, beads, shells, and found objects that evoke suits of armor. Housing mystical forces to eradicate evil, German’s enigmatic contemporary variations of the ritualistic sculptures embody a performative, spiritual, and affirming function. One such sculpture, German’s “Tar Baby on Pig with ‘N’” formed from tar, hand-wrought beads, cloth, spark plugs and other found objects, entered the Wadsworth Atheneum’s permanent collection in 2014 as a gift of Linda Cheverton Wick.

“It is a privilege to present Vanessa German’s timely and socially conscious exhibition as part of the MATRIX program,” says the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art Patricia Hickson. “Vanessa is a truly multi-dimensional artist whose work will meaningfully engage not only museum visitors, but the larger Hartford community.”

MATRIX 174 will transform the Bunce Gallery into an underground excavation site, with strings of bare light bulbs minimally illuminating a powerful female army of approximately 30 of German’s black figurative sculptures installed in military formation on an earthen floor.

The presentation was inspired by the 1974 discovery of an estimated 7,000 terra cotta warriors and horses buried near the 2,000 year-old tomb of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (died 210 B.C.). Like the army of the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin, German’s female soldiers display remarkable individuality and perform specific protective and support roles through the rites of passage from birth, to death and rebirth. German’s soldiers confront the agents of racism, violence, and police brutality. In her signature prose, she describes them as “an army of healers. an army of weepers. An army of protectors. Armed and dangerous upon the lie.” She defines their role in “a sustained accumulation of destruction to the vicious and debilitating compendium of hate, lies, and murder; the shapeshifting nature of the weapons aimed against my very flesh and soul. (i do not have to tell you that___black lives matter.)”

German will complement her MATRIX 174 exhibition with an artist residency, which beginning in May will take her into Hartford Public Schools to work closely with students, encouraging creativity through dynamic art workshops in both assemblies and classroom settings. In July she will return to Hartford, where she finds parallels to her own Homewood neighborhood in terms of racism and gun violence, for summer sessions with community groups including True Colors, Real Art Ways’ Park Art, Billings Forge Community Works, and the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Summer Community Studio.

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