For this studio project, I started at Nari Ward’s exhibition at the New Museum called We The People. The goal of this project was to focus on one piece or symbol and make 30 renditions of that form with at least 5 different mediums.
His work spans 3 floors and is a wide reaching collection that has an incredible depth of references and value. His work is worth an entire separate post.
The piece pictured above is called Breathing Holes. It’s a copper circle mounted on the wall. Ward put petina activator on his feet and danced on top of the copper piece. I really appreciated the physical motion associated with the piece, but what really caught my attention was the center piece.
He’s referencing a symbol that has been around since the 13th century. The Congolese cosmogram was a symbol created by Congolese people that began in pre-colonial times. It was cut into the bottom of bowls and pottery and represented life, death, the afterlife and the cosmos.
This mystic symbol appears again in the floorboards of the first African Episcopal Church in Savannah, GA. The pastor drilled these holes because runaway slaves would hide under the floorboards and they needed to breathe. This old symbol from the Congo became the literal breathing holes for African slaves that were running north for freedom.
After seeing the exhibit, I was encapsulated by the symbol and its surrounding connections. In this project, I centered in on its mysticism and astrological connections through its circular pattern.
I worked with printmaking, painting, paint marker on acrylic, photoshop, spray paint, wood, cups, bottle caps and paper bags. I liked how much of Nari Ward’s work uses resampled materials. I wanted these pieces to reference both the symbol and the types of techniques that Ward often uses in his work.
I was happy to work on a project that felt bigger than me and referenced a long story for a symbol that is still unraveling in the minds of other contemporary artists.