Art that lets your hair down

June 28, 2008|By Courtney Pomeroy | Courtney Pomeroy,Sun reporter

There are some places one would expect to find matted hair. Shower drains and hairbrushes, certainly. Museum displays, certainly not.

Sonya Clark, however, may be changing those expectations, at least for visitors of her Loose Strands: Tight Knots exhibition at the Walters Art Museum.

Clark, an artist and the chairwoman of the Craft/Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University, is well-versed in working with many materials, among them human hair. In fact, the exhibit, which opens today, features sculptures made out of not only her own hair, which she wets and molds into the desired shape, but her mother's, too.

Some may say her artistic materials are uncommon; she has the opposite opinion.

"One of the things about the materials that I work in is that ... they are the most common materials of expression, and that's why I work in them," she says. "If I'm working in media that people understand, through materials that people understand, then I already know that they're going to have some sort of intrinsic knowledge of that material. So, you can look at a piece of mine that's made out of hair, let's say, and because you grow hair, you have a sense ... of what it would feel like, perhaps what it took to make the piece. We're already speaking a common language, in other words."

Clark's exhibit includes beadwork and multimedia pieces, all of which are entwined with similarly themed objects from the Walters' permanent collection. Tosha Grantham, the curator of the show, explains that this juxtaposition creates "a framework for understanding contemporary art as an art form that has historical ties."

According to Grantham, some of Clark's mother/daughter hair sculptures can be compared with Madonna and child figures, while her beadwork evokes Tibetan Buddhist art.

"It seemed like a really great way to make connections between the Walters' historical objects across culture, across time," Grantham says.

"There are pieces and artifacts that are coming out of the collection that have to do with sort of ritual use and connection to one's ancestry and that sort of thing. And those are the sort of themes I have in my work," Clark says.

courtney.pomeroy@baltsun.com

If you go

Loose Strands: Tight Knots is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays- Sundays through Sept. 22 at the Walters Art Museum. Call 410-547-9000 or go to thewalters.org.

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