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Art

#activism#mixed media#sculpture#vanessa german

‘Power Figures’ Share Messages of Love and Healing in vanessa german’s Totemic Assemblages

December 4, 2023

Kate Mothes

Installation view of a sculpture in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The sculpture features a Black woman singing, and her body is made of glass bottles and surrounded by flowers with photographs of people in a crowd.

“Of Thee We Sing” (2023), steel, plywood, dibond, and resin, 144 x 96 x 96 inches. Photo by Steve Weinik. All images © vanessa german, courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery, shared with permission

Through found materials that range from feathers to glass bottles to astroturf, vanessa german (previously) assembles evocative, ritualistic sculptures that she describes as “power figures.” Often life-size or larger, german’s totemic sculptures are tied to the artist’s activism, confronting systemic racism and white supremacy, misogynoir, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and the destructive extraction of natural resources.

The lists of media for each work read like poems of love, hope, and grief. In “Blue Bird,” Nike trainers pay homage to a young man killed on a street corner in Pittsburgh, where german is based. In “I love you in the house. Or, The Multidimensionality of Resilience,” she emphasizes the heaviness of “used stories, stories used up, the weight of it all—refracted as tho through a prism.”

Many of german’s pieces contain visual symbols or written messages that tap into societal expectations, desires, or fears, like the mirrored face of “Epigenetic (Grace),” which reflects the words “You look like your Mother” back to the viewer as the figure holds out another mirror. In “SITTING IN THE POWER OF BEING EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE,” a glass dessert cloche, which we associate with displays of sweetness, forms the sculpture’s head. Inside, handwriting on a pink sheet of paper reads, “The thing that hurt me the most: abandoning myself.”

german draws on the history of Congolese Nkisi figures, spiritual vessels that contain sacred substances, which supernatural forces may bring forth into the corporeal world. Using textiles like denim jeans, garments she has worn on special occasions, quilts, and various yarns and twines, she adds objects ranging from keys and nails to beads and bright paint. The artist grounds us in our physical reality through the use of recognizable everyday objects, summoning creativity and tenderness as tools for healing.

Find more of german’s work on Kasmin Gallery’s website, and follow the artist’s Instagram for updates.

A mixed-media sculpture of a bird-like creature with Nike shoes on its head and a chair with an air conditioner on its back.

“Blue Bird” (2022), street bird: like fast-talking street corner creatures with leather jackets, grief bird, sorrow bird, heartbreak bird tryin just to figure out how it all goes, love bird, angel bird, wood, tar, oil pastels, ceramic bits, for how we love to talk about the flying Africans, love, earthling love songs, gold chains inspired by fast-talking street corner men, carved wood ashtray feet, blue Nikes for the boy who they killed on the corner of Kelly and Homewood and how he sold water and had a whole life ahead of him—which is a cliche that i am certain not everyone even believed on his behalf, old wooden chair with chippy paint, old boom box, Astro turf, how it feels to outlive children, a love song for the open sky, liberty, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes., 70 1/2 x 24 x 48 inches. Photo by Diego Flores

A mixed-media sculpture of an abstract figure with bottles, nails, beads and other items on its body. It has a glass dessert cloche on its head with a message inside that reads "The thing that hurt me the most: abandoning myself."

“SITTING IN THE POWER OF BEING EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE” (2022), 26 x 24 x 14 inches. Photo by Wendy Timana

A mixed-media sculpture made of different pairs of blue jeans all balled up with yarn and twine.

“I love you in the house. Or, The Multidimensionality of Resilience” (2023), blue jeans, blue genes, yarn, twine, wire, wood, foam, used stories, stories used up, the weight of it all—refracted as tho through a prism., 62 x 40 x 30 inches. Photo by Wendy Timana

A mixed-media sculpture of a wooden figure with bright green paint on its body, with multiple faces made from masks. It sits on a sawhorse with a swan.

“BLACK SWAN, or, THE ENVY” (2022), green, green with, green with envy, sick, sick to, sick to my, sick to my stomach, heart ache, green pigment, white, pigment, pink pigment, blue pigment, black pigment, a clutch of 7 knock-off tribal masks found in nyc before my Madison square park talk, love of the big body, the constant ache of being under the eye of white supremacist delusion, a wholeness calling up the night, a random punch drunk miracle, a hope song, a body bag filled with lies, a shoe horn aching to be a unicorn, a critical neighbor with a big mean mouth, grief, letting go, a saw horse, hand carved black swan., 97 3/4 x 28 1/2 x 43 3/4 inches. Photo by Diego Flores

A mixed-media sculpture of a figure made of flowers and mirrors. The message on a mirror which creates the figure's face reads, "You look like your Mother."

“Epigenetic (Grace)” (2023), wood, blue, silk flowers, mirror, a way of being alive that is feeling first, the sunrise, glass beads, beaded glass trim, locks and keys, a holiness, wire, twine, yarn, vintage French beaded flowers, ceramic flowers, key chains, the inclination to fold the tongue over inside of ones own self, cloth, falling in love, bird figurines, small black dolls, safety, glass leaves, a wail, grace., 65 x 28 x 40 inches. Photo by Jordan Whitten

A mixed-media sculpture of a stylised Black figure seated on a white swan, which is seated on a sawhorse.

“WHITE SWAN” (2022), saw horse, disco body, fabric, wire, twine, hair grease, rage, hurt in the heart, a snarl, a fat ass, a hero, hand carved white swan decoy, a place to hide in plain sight, plaster, wood glue, plaster gauze, the burden of the ego, bullies becoming bullies, 18k gold leaf, glory, heart ache healed, glory, rest, sequin fabric, heat, love, masturbation, a mirror to help you watch yo back, yarn, wire, found body form, grace, redemption, a healing., 92 1/2 x 29 x 39 1/2 inches. Photo by Diego Flores

#activism#mixed media#sculpture#vanessa german

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