The Universe Within
The Universe Within is not a definitive statement on who women-identifying and non-binary people of the Black diaspora are. Instead, it is a space that recognizes their limitless potential to be. Layered, dynamic, complex, nuanced, ever-evolving. A multitude of selves within the vessel of their bodies. Like our universe, mysterious and mystical, their interiority is rich and vast. This exhibition is a privileged glimpse into the wondrous multiformity within the spectrum of Black femininity and queerness.
Extending over three rooms, eleven artists take up space, an understated form of resistance. Recurrent themes surveyed in the exhibition include the relationship between self and place, nurturing individual and collective identity, transformation, celebration, survival, ancestral lineages, navigating the problematic expectations and violence imposed on their bodies, and the importance of reclaiming childhood.
The artists of The Universe Within use clay as their primary vehicle for storytelling. An ancient and elemental medium, long marginalized in the art world. Parallelly, the field of studio ceramics has notoriously underrepresented Black artists for decades, especially those who are women-identifying and non-binary. However, the sculptures and vessels, both abstract and figurative, created by the artists of The Universe Within demonstrate that clay—which is capable of impressive transfiguration—is an effective tool for empowering their narratives in their quest for liberation, connection, and beauty.
Maya Beverly’s “The Sapphire Child” series presents different variations of a figurative vessel assembled using the same molded elements. While each is different, they share a common origin point. This series embodies identity plurality as well as ancestral lineages. Depicting a face framed by a “door knocker” earring and long twisted tresses, Beverly’s Door Knocker investigates adornments, specifically hair and jewelry, as extensions of the body that speak to interconnectivity and ideas of a boundless body. Inspired Black science fiction writers Octavia E. Butler and N.K. Jemisin, Patrice Renee Washington explores the connection between a sense of self and physical landscape. Envisioning the artifacts she would leave behind, Washington makes monolithic sculptures, such as Onyx Peak decorated with protective hairstyles like Bantu knots and braids, that continue her examination of Black hair and its relationship to vulnerability, protection, and survival. Speaking to issues of race, gender, beauty, and class Sharon Norwood uses the line, a formal element of drawing, as her primary tool. In her work, lines curve to become curls, celebrating Black hair. Norwood’s “Entanglement” sculptures, porcelain curls decorated with flowers and gold luster, underscore the preciousness and beauty of not only Black hair but Black bodies.
Anina Major’s installation features porcelain “straw dolls”—a take on a traditional craft and souvenir from her native Bahamas—watching over four plaited vessels, personifying the elements of water, fire, earth, and wind. Her archetypical ceramic weaving technique developed through her mission to redefine the value of the labor, materials, and people associated with straw doll production. Dolls and vessels together demonstrate Major’s artistic evolution while discussing the marketplace as a political space and ways of cultivating a sense of belonging. Lydia C. Thompson’s “The Relic” series is an array of house-shaped sculptures that resemble working-class family homes in dilapidated and vacant states. She smashes her grandmother’s reclaimed ceramic figurines, most of which are indicative of a Eurocentric aristocratic lifestyle, into the rubble that fills the “houses.” The crushed ceramics convey bad memories, loss of family, unemployment, shattered dreams, and purging society of confederate monuments. Malene Barnett’s What’s Left Behind/Dreaming of America commemorates the hardship, beauty, and joy of her family’s migration from the Caribbean. The abstract rendered portraits of silhouettes and bold patterns, a call-back to Barnett’s background in textile design, focus on generations of women in her family that have influenced who she is.
Maya Vivas’ “in their own imago” series of sinuous sculptures imagines a transformative diasporic body memory for a futuristic Black Queer community. Octavia E. Butler’s research into slime mold colonies which shaped the extraterrestrial beings who repopulate a post-apocalyptic Earth in her “Lilith’s Brood” trilogy, influenced Vivas’ divination of survival through their resilient biomorphic seed pods adaptable to the environment. In a new body of work, Lola Ayisha Ogbara references bell hooks’ homeplace: a site of resistance in an inquiry of interiority and spatiality. Ogbara uplifts Black feminine identities through ambiguous bodily sculptures on stacked stools—borrowing from Mid-Century Modern design and West African ceremonial seating objects—that allow for rest and conservation. Using the ceramic language of their ancestral homeland Shea Burke creates vessels that honor the physical and emotional labor of those who came before them. In a new series, they use the vessels as proxy bodies to address their chest dysphoria as a non-binary person, poetically stressing the burdening implications of the body.
Sana Musasama’s work denounces systems that deny Black women the possibility of fully realizing their lives and bodies. She has worked on her “Unspeakable” series for decades, responding to the loss of innocence and wonderment that she witnessed as Mende thirteen-year-old girls from Sierra Leone returned after a marriage ritual of genital mutilation changed forever. Her “Girl Soldiers” series also speaks of enforced rights of passages that violently curtail childhood by throwing girls into the turmoil of civil wars. Her work pleads to allow Black girls to simply be girls. Sydnie Jimenez’s figurative sculptures celebrate Brown and Black youth and emphasize the importance of taking up space and protecting this community. Each with a distinct personal style, the sculptures are love letters to the family and friends who uplift her.
About the Artists
Sydnie Jimenez was born in Orlando, FL but spent most of her childhood in north Georgia from which she draws much inspiration. Much of her work centers around the representation of black/ brown youth and self-expression as a form of protest and self care to protect against a Eurocentric society founded on white supremacy and colonization and to cultivate joy despite this. She has a BFA (2020) from SAIC and was awarded the Windgate Fellowship (2020). She is currently doing a long term residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.
Lydia Thompson is a mixed media sculptor, educator, and advocate for the arts. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Ohio State University and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University. She received a Fulbright Hayes grant to conduct research on traditional architecture in Nigeria and received educational grants for the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center Artist-in-Residency in Denmark, and at the Medalta Ceramic Center in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Her work blends the narratives of urban and rural human migration. Her work has been included in galleries, art centers, and museums such as the Mindy Solomon Gallery, the Society for Contemporary Crafts, the Baltimore Clayworks, the Ohr O’Keefe Museum, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, James A. Michener Art Museum, and the Mint Museum. She has completed public commissions for businesses and her work is in private and public collections in the US, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. She has conducted workshops for youths and adults, given public lectures and served as a juror and curator for national and regional exhibitions. She is Professor of Ceramics in the Department of Art & Art History at UNC Charlotte
Malene Barnett, bio coming soon.
Maya Beverly is a multidisciplinary artist from Macon, GA, whose work is centered around Sculpture and Ceramics. In 2020, she received her BFA from New York University in Studio Art (Honor’s Studio). Her work has been shown in exhibitions throughout the United States including, New York, Washington, Montana, Florida, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. In 2020, She held a Book Arts residency at Women’s Studio Workshop. In 2021, she was a Summer Resident at The Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramics. She is currently based in New York.
Maya Vivas is a multidisciplinary artist working in a variety of mediums such as ceramic, performance, painting and installation. Maya has exhibited work, spoken on panels and hosted workshops throughout the United States including venues and institutions such as Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, Louisiana State University and Yale. Vivas is also co-founder of Ori Gallery. Whose mission is to redefine “the white cube” through amplifying the voices of Queer and Trans Artists of color, community organizing and mobilization through the arts.
Sana Musasama received her BA from City College of New York in 1973 and her MFA from Alfred University, New York in 1988. She received the 2018 Achievement Award from the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts for her years of teaching and her humanitarian work with victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia and the United States. Sana is the coordinator of the Apron Project, a sustainable entrepreneurial project for girls and young women reintegrated back into society after being forced into sex trafficking. In 2016, she was a guest speaker on “Activism through Art” at ROCA. A recently published article by Cliff Hocker, “If I can Help Somebody: Sana Musasama’s Art of Healing” appears in the International Review of African American Art. In 2015, the Museum of Art and Design in New York selected four works from The Unspeakable Series for their private collection; Sana was awarded the ACLU of Michigan Art Prize 7 and Art Prize 8. In 2002, she was awarded Anonymous Was a Woman and in 2001, Sana was featured in the 2001 Florence Biennial. Her work is in multiple collections such as The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; The Museum of Art and Design in New York, New York; the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, New York; the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, New Hampshire; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York; Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio; and in numerous private collections. Sana lives and works in New York.
Sharon Norwood is a Jamaican born, Canadian artist from Toronto Canada. Her work spans several media to include painting and ceramic. Norwood received a BFA in Painting from the University of South Florida and an MFA in studio Art from Florida State University. Sharon has exhibited in Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Korea and Germany, her exhibition record includes solo exhibitions, group collaborations, and site-specific installations. Norwood has been awarded residences at Erie Arts & Culture, the McColl Center for the creative arts, the Hambidge center, the Virginia Center for the creative arts, the Vermont Studio Center, PILOTENKUECHE in Germany, Watershed Center for the ceramic arts in Maine, and ROKTOWA in Kingston Jamaica. In 2019 Norwood became a Joan Mitchell foundation nominee. Norwood’s work is in public and private collections.
Patrice Renee Washington (b. 1987, Chicago, IL) earned her BFA from Metropolitan State University, Denver, CO and her MFA from Columbia University, NY. She has shown in solo and group exhibitions across the United States, including solo exhibitions at Marinaro (2019), Underdonk Gallery (2018) and a 2018 solo museum exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Denver, CO. In 2020, Washington was included in Barring Freedom at the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA. Additional group exhibitions include Reyes Finn, Detroit, MI; Jenkins Johnson Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; We Buy Gold, Brooklyn, NY; Sculpture Center, Queens, NY; Abrons Art Center, New York, NY; 47 Canal, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn, NY; and the LeRoy Neiman Gallery, New York, NY.
Shea Burke (b. 1995) is a ceramic artist from Rochester New York. Their work employs the ceramic vessel as a container for thoughts and histories around their identity and Black biracial ancestry. Shea dreams of their role as a future ancestor. Shea received their BFA from Alfred University in 2017 and an MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2021. They were the recipient of a Zenobia Award for a residency at Watershed Ceramics in 2018. Shea is currently Artist-in-Residence at the Harvard Ceramics program.
Lola Ayisha Ogbara (cultural worker & artist) born and raised in Chicago, Illinois holds many talents under her belt, i.e. sculpture, sound, design, photography and installation art. “My practice explores the multifaceted implications and ramifications of being in regards to the Black experience. I work with clay as a material in order to emphasize a necessary fragility which symbolizes an essential contradiction implicit in empowerments”. Ogbara holds a Bachelor of Arts in Arts Entertainment & Media Management from Columbia College Chicago in 2013 and a MFA in Visual Arts from Washington University Sam Fox School of Art & Design. In 2017, Ogbara co-founded Artists in the Room, a collective of artists and scholars who host artists, emerging and established, in hopes of serving as a catalyst for artist development and networking. Ogbara has also received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Multicultural Fellowship sponsored by the NCECA 52nd Annual Conference, the Arts + Public Life and Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture Residency at the University of Chicago, and the Coney Family Fund Award hosted by the Chicago Artists Coalition. Ogbara has exhibited in art spaces across the country and is currently based in Chicago, Illinois.
Anina Major (she/her) is a visual artist from the Bahamas. Her decision to voluntarily establish a home contrary to the location in which she was born and raised motivates her to investigate the relationship between self and place as a site of negotiation. By utilizing the vernacular of craft to reclaim experiences and relocate displaced objects, her practice exists at the intersection of nostalgia, and identity. She holds an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design and is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies, including the Elizabeth Foundation for the Art Studio Program and the Socrates Sculpture Park Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited in The Bahamas, across the United States, and Europe and featured in permanent collections, including the National Gallery of The Bahamas and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
About the Curator
Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy (b. 1992) is a Los Angeles-based independent curator, writer, and arts administrator of contemporary art and craft, focusing on ceramics. She has curated exhibitions at the Center for Craft, NC, Collar Works, NY, The Jane Hartsook Gallery, NY, and has upcoming projects at the Crocker Art Museum, CA, and Grounds for Sculpture, NJ. Vizcarrondo-Laboy has written for publications such as The Journal of Modern Craft, American Craft magazine, Cultured, and multiple exhibition catalogs.
She is the co-creator and co-host of the podcast Clay in Color. She most recently served as Assistant Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), NY. She helped organize over twenty exhibitions over six years and oversaw the Burke Prize, a prestigious contemporary craft award. She holds a BA in Art History from the University of Florida and an MA from the Bard Graduate Center, NY, in Decorative Arts, Design History, & Material Culture.