Sonya Clarkthese days. this country. this history.
For over twenty-five years, American artist Sonya Clark has created installations that recount new stories about Blackness through objects, such as hair, beads, combs, and sugar. In 2010, she introduced a new, textile-based object into her repertoire: flags. Two flags in particular recur in Clark’s oeuvre, namely the Confederate Battle Flag, devised by the southern Confederate States of America during the Civil War (1861–65), and the fifty-star United States flag, adopted in 1959 at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining new momentum.
If Jasper Johns in the 1950s reproduced the American flag in encaustic to question the nature of symbols, Clark investigates what the stars and stripes connote about identity and equality in the United States. The work on view in this exhibition focuses as much on the flag as a representation of ideals as it does on its demise. To create these days. this country. this history. (2019), Clark unraveled commercial, nylon Confederate and American flags by hand. The artist has associated this process of disintegration with undoing the histories of racism and violence woven into the flags’ fibers. “Sometimes it is really hard to undo cloth, and sometimes it is a little easier,” Clark has said about her experience disentangling these potent American symbols. “But no matter what, it is slow going,” a pace that offers “a fitting metaphor for where we are,” Clark has observed. At least thanks to efforts like hers, the process is underway. (LH)
About the artist
Born in Washington, DC, Sonya Clark earned a BA from Amherst College, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her art consciously draws on the crafting traditions of her ancestors. Clark is best known for her work with Black hair as both subject and medium, as well as with deconstructed flags, particularly Confederate flags: she alters their fibers to change or challenge their symbolic meaning. Her work has been exhibited in over four hundred galleries and museums across the world and can be found in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, among others. She shows her work at Lisa Sette Gallery. Currently the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Amherst College, Clark was an Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 2017 and returned two years later as a Visiting Artist.