Vanessa German / MATRIX 174
i come to do a violence to the lie
June 9, 2016–September 4, 2016
i am thinking about the power of love. for how inside of my heart of love. all of my ancestors are present….this army is ancestral. …and love is the process, the product, and the way. and it is infinitely reproducible. and all of this rises from the soul. —Vanessa German
Since 2007, artist Vanessa German has lived in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, where crime, drugs, and gun violence continually wreak havoc on the historically African-American urban community. Gun shots can be heard day and night, and many residents have personal connections to the victims of violence. In response to her life experiences, German creates inspiring sculptures in the tradition of African “Nkisi” power figures, divine protective objects thickly encrusted with nails, beads, shells, and found objects that evoke suits of armor. Housing mystical forces to eradicate evil, German’s enigmatic contemporary variations of the ritualistic sculptures embody a performative, spiritual, and affirming function.
For MATRIX 174, German will transform the gallery into an underground site of a cavern excavation. Minimally illuminated by several strings of bare light bulbs, a powerful army of approximately 30 of the artist’s black figurative sculptures will be installed in military formation on an earthen floor. The presentation was inspired by one of the most remarkable archeological discoveries of our times―the massive configuration of an estimated 7,000 terra cotta warriors and horses buried near the 2,000-year-old tomb of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (died 210 B.C.) in northwest China in 1974. Like the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin, German’s female soldiers display remarkable individuality and perform specific protective and supportive roles within the community (or dynasty) through the rites of passage from birth, to death, and rebirth.
German’s soldiers confront the agents of racism, violence, and police brutality. In her signature prose, she describes them as “an army of healers. an army of weepers. an army of protectors. armed and dangerous upon the lie.” She defines their role in “a sustained accumulation of destruction to the vicious and debilitating compendium of hate, lies, and murder; the shapeshifting nature of the weapons aimed against my very flesh and soul. (i do not have to tell you that____black lives matter.)”
Finding parallels between her Homewood neighborhood and Hartford, Connecticut, particularly in terms of racism and gun violence, German will be an artist in residence as part of her MATRIX project. Beginning in May, her residency will take her into the Hartford Public Schools to work closely with students to encourage creativity through dynamic art workshops in all-school assemblies and classroom settings. Additionally, she will return to Hartford for summer sessions with various community groups like True Colors, Real Art Way’s Park Art, Billings Forge Community Works, and the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Summer Community Studio. Watch a video about German’s residency below.
Hartford Courant, June 14, Wadsworth Atheneum Exhibit Confronts Violence Against African-Americans by Susan Dunne
WPKN, May 28, Live Culture with Martha Willette Lewis Episode 15 featuring Vanessa German
All works are mixed media by Vanessa German, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York.