Contemporary Artist Sonya Clark Explores Notions of Beauty in Summer Exhibition at The Walters
Baltimore—The Walters Art Museum features contemporary artist Sonya Clark’s sculpture, photography and video art in Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots, June 28–Sept. 21. With 10 objects by Sonya Clark and 12 from the Walters’ collection, this focus show will examine shifting and subjective notions of beauty, adornment and adoration in historical and contemporary art. The exhibition will also make multiple connections with artworks throughout the museum.
Clark uses traditional and non-traditional materials to demonstrate how tools used to groom, primp and adorn the body reveal cultural notions of aesthetics, hygiene and civilized behavior as well as the relationship between mother and child. Through researching the history and use of her media, Clark has discovered new ways to present artworks made of combs (an implement for hair arrangement), hair (a signifier of personal, yet transient power) and beads (a traditional medium or trade unit).
“The connections between the show’s contemporary and historical objects will encourage visitors to explore the whole museum,” said Tosha Grantham, David C. Driskell Fellow and curator of this exhibition. “The Clark exhibition will highlight the Walters’ strong collection of miniatures and religious art as well as stimulate a visual conversation spanning centuries and continents.”
About the Exhibition
Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots encourages visitors to consider what different media convey culturally about the object and its owner. For instance, ivory has been a coveted material, rare and valuable, for carving. From its first availability in Europe before the Middle Ages, it was used to decorate objects of religious significance, such as portable altars, and create religious statues, like Madonna and Child figures. Ivory was also a medium for personal objects, such as combs, as seen with the Walters’ Italian and Japanese ivory combs. By contrast, Clark’s sculptures and photographs elevate humble everyday objects, such as black plastic combs, into the realm of fine art materials. In the Parted Series photographs, combs are “parted” like hair as Clark passes her finger through them. The photographs evoke race politics and refer to outdated notions of “good hair” and “bad hair” by challenging the assumptions associated with hair types that easily pass though them.
Clark’s work also includes elements of autobiographical intimacy, grounded by close ties to her family and Afro-Caribbean ancestry. In homage to her mother, Clark used her own hair in the shape of a miniature hand to cradle a pearl made from her mother’s hair in the sculpture Pearl of Mother. The sacredness of motherhood will be conceptually compared with the Walters’ Madonna and Child figures, highlighted in the exhibition and the third floor galleries and ranging from the Gothic through Medieval periods.
Another medium Clark explores is beadwork, which she uses as a metaphor for communication and memory. As she stitches the beads together, she meditates on how the beads form a union, just as individuals form communities. Beadwork is a nearly universal medium that societies have used for centuries in countless ways, ranging from abacuses for calculation to rosaries for prayer. Clark’s beadwork, such as the glass bead sculpture Offer, will be compared with jewelry from the Victorian period (1836–1901), which was marked by Queen Victoria’s love for adornment. In Victorian times, strands of pearls were used as keepsakes that once belonged to loved ones, and semi-precious gems and human hair were often incorporated into jewelry of adoration or mourning, such as with the Walters’ bracelet Memorial Pearl and Hair Bracelet.
Sonya Clark uses memories and elements of material culture to make work that challenges the boundaries between fine art and craft. She addresses power and long-held truths or myths, while also focusing on formal arrangements that are gestural, ordered and abstract. Her creative process considers the life and function of the object while acknowledging the final product as a thing with its own inherent energy.
Born in Washington, D.C., Clark was a longtime resident of Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood. She is currently the Chair of Craft and Material Studies at the School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.
A family guide will accompany Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots. One side will provide insight about the exhibition while the other will offer visitors a scavenger hunt throughout the Walters.
Admission and Hours
Admission to Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots is free. Museum hours are Wednesday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please Note: Beginning Wednesday, July 2, the Walters will change its museum hours to 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, eliminating Friday evening hours. The museum will launch a new series—First Fridays—which will take place from October to June on the first Friday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Independence Day and Labor Day.
The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets. Its permanent collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500.