5/14/2021 Staff Writer

Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa: Sonya Clark

Honorary Degree Profile | Sonya Clark

Sonya Clark is a celebrated artist and professor of art at Amherst College. Her work has been exhibited in more than 350 museums and galleries globally across North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia. The Phillips Museum of Art commenced the spring 2020 exhibition season with “Sonya Clark: Finding Freedom,” the artist’s large-scale fabric installation created specifically for the Dana Gallery. 

Clark incorporates everyday objects into mixed media to navigate complex histories, cultural heritage, and identity. Her installations synchronize with national conversations about racism, violence, and ownership of American history. Her immersive exhibition at the Phillips Museum spotlights Lancaster as a location along the Underground Railroad, using the night sky to orient those seeking freedom. 

Born in Washington, D.C., to a Jamaican mother who was a nurse and a Trinidadian father who was a psychiatrist, Clark conveys stories with her art that were influenced by her family and their skills, including her grandmother, a tailor, and a grandfather skilled in furniture making. 

“Many of my family members taught me the value of a well-told story, and so it is that I value the stories held in objects,” Clark says. 

Clark’s ability to weave together unique concepts and media has earned the artist widespread acclaim in her field. She describes her celebrated hair craft project as an exploration of “the poetry and politics of Black hair-care specialists,” highlighting 12 stylists’ ability to manipulate her own hair while also showcasing their textile artistry on canvases. The International Review of African American Art Plus said Clark “is one of the new contemporary artists that draw from an interest in African American hair to create both life like and fanciful arts works. She uses the hair theme to address African American race and identity issues.” 

During the 2020 academic year, Clark served as Franklin & Marshall College’s Richard C. Von Hess artist in residence and was the esteemed Conrad Nelson Speaker for the Department of Art and Art History. 

Clark was a former distinguished research fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned a master of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a bachelor of arts degree from Amherst College, where she also received an honorary doctorate in 2015. Clark is the recipient of a United States Artists fellowship, a Pollock Krasner award, an 1858 Prize, and an Anonymous Was a Woman grant. 

Sonya Clark, for your commitment to telling stories about ownership, violence and racism; for your innovative use of human and human-made elements to illustrate history and the individual; and for your outstanding achievements in art, Franklin & Marshall College bestows upon you the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Fine Arts.

Honorary degree recipient Sonya Clark.
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