In their salient text In the wake: About blackness and beingThe scholar Christina Sharpe deals with the various definitions of “wake”, which range from “the path behind a ship, the watch with the dead to the awakening”. “By doing wake up, “writes Sharpe,”The past, which is not the past, keeps reappearing to destroy the past available.” The book focuses primarily on conversations about anti-blackness and persistent violence, and is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and the feelings, practices, and memories that linger in the present moment, questions that similarly establish the artist’s work Nastassja Swift.
Through fiber-based figures, often arranged in large gatherings, Swift examines various narratives associated with blackness, particularly those relating to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking these things as a starting point and mapping a space or event that affects my sculpture and allowing me to think through a hypothesis that is rooted in that memory or story,” says the Virginia one living artist. She derives these stories from texts such as Sharpes, discussions with friends and, in one case, a conversation with an elderly black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
Although each of her pieces contains several narrative strands, Swift does not try to reveal each one, but prefers explicit gaps in the context. “I love knowing that there is more that is being made and imagining other characters or continuing events around what is being made,” she says. “I’m not trying to convey that, but information that I cannot pass on.”
Many of the faces are reminiscent of imaginary motifs, not relatives Swift met or seen in photographs, but rather “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to shape the face at a certain moment without my mind being aware of it is “. She always starts with the sleek shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that is intimate and that has evolved with two more recent works.
“Everything has changed with” Passage, when mom lets my braids flow down my back “(2021) and” Your banks are red honey where the moon wanders – self-portrait “(2020),” Swift describes the shift in this process that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage”, is a chewing gum pink figure with a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend the torso and gather on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, with a calm face made of deep red wool that contrasts with braids and figural tendrils. Both interpret certain themes as West African masks and sculptural forms to question “what it means to worship someone and how this word could be transformed so that we can honor the people around us,” says the artist.
Swift will have a satellite exhibit entitled Canaan: When I read your letter, I can feel your voice In the Contemporary art network in Newport News June 5 through July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundationthe pieces will then travel for a stay in Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shopand go to Instagram for insights into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.
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