1/20/2020 Peter Durantine

At F&M's Phillips Museum of Art—Sonya Clark: Finding Freedom

As a mixed-media artist who in the past used human hair and other materials to create works that explore racial, cultural and historical issues, Sonya Clark created a large-scale fabric installation in the Phillips Museum of Art’s Dana Gallery for her exhibit “Sonya Clark: Finding Freedom.”

A professor of art and the history of art at Amherst College, Clark’s latest work created for the Phillips, opens the spring semester’s exhibition season at Franklin & Marshall College.

“She is an artist who uses everyday materials to create installations that coincide with national conversations about racism, violence and who ‘owns’ history in the United States,” said Amy Moorefield, the museum director. “We are delighted to premiere ‘Finding Freedom’ at the Phillips.”

  • “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. “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. Image Credit: Courtesy of Sonya Clark

For this exhibit, Clark first visited the Phillips and Lancaster, where she became interested in the county’s relationship with the Underground Railroad. She chose a “cyanotype” fabric that turns blue when exposed to sunlight while objects – in this case seeds – placed pre-exposure leave white shadows.

“She placed the seeds in constellation patterns and let the sun process occur,” Moorefield said. “The work explores how people who migrated north along the Underground Railroad to find freedom used the constellations to navigate,” Moorefield said. “What she’s creating for us is actually a night sky.”

The fabric – a series of cyanotype prints sewn together – unfolds to about 1,500 square feet and encompasses the Dana Gallery’s entire ceiling. The exhibit includes stargazing chairs, a furniture design that originated in Africa, and blacklight flashlights to illuminate the constellations.

Clark, the College’s Richard C. Von Hess artist in residence and this year’s Conrad Nelson Speaker, was born in Washington D.C. to a mother from Jamaica and a father from Trinidad. She tells stories with her art.

“I gained an appreciation for craft and the value of the handmade primarily from my maternal grandmother, who was a professional tailor,” Clark has said. “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.”

The exhibit debuts Jan. 23, the same day Clark, as Conrad Nelson lecturer, will speak at Common Hour, which starts at 11:30 a.m. followed by a reception at the Phillips Museum. At 5:30 on Feb. 6, in conjunction with Clark’s exhibition, the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania will present an original live performance, “Under Freedom’s Sky” in the Dana Gallery. 

For more at the Phillips, visit the museum.

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