Last Saturday, January 26th, five of us met up at the Flint Institute of Arts and made our way to Studio 4 in the Art School wing. We all had our bags of token objects that we were told to bring but we still didn't really know what to expect from this workshop. We knew we were going to make some sort of a doll, that by the looks of the pictures in the FIA Winter catalog, looked like folk art. While we were waiting outside the room, to see if we were going to be able to get in (come to find out...they had limited space and we were not guaranteed a seat), the artist Vanessa German came out into the hallway to tell the FIA facilitator to "chop chop" we need to get started.
We took our places at the tables along side 15 or so other women and a few young girls. 15 minutes later we were in the throws of creation. Tables were filled with fabric and yarn, embellishments and shiny bits. We were told to choose 4 pieces of fabric that "spoke" to us. Instinctively scoop up what we were drawn to. Then we took our seats and tore a piece of paper into 3 pieces (that would later become the intentions that we incorporated into our art figures). Vanesa told us about putting our intentions into the universe with purpose, similar to how Tibetan monks place individual grains of rice into mandalas, and how it changes the frequency of energy in the room. A scientific and measurable shift. By writing down our specific intentions (of love, challenges we have over come and purpose) we were giving our figure a metaphoric power to be the extension of our intentions. Reading this you may think it sounds whacky but I'll tell you, there was a shift in the room. The process had begun and we were on board!
We folded up these little scraps of paper, buried them deep in the materials we were using and incorporated them into the figure itself. One in the wadding of the head, one in the extended arms and one swaddled into a bead and attached to the figure itself. Vanessa walked us through each step and helped those of us who couldn't tie knots or needed an extra hand getting the head to stay on the stick. She purposefully did NOT show us an example of what we were making. We were flying blind. Each step was a part of the process, our own process, and I assume she did not want us to be influenced by her creations. These were to be uniquely ours. We were empowering this figure with our own purposeful intentions.
Once we had assembled our power figures, we embellished them with the meaningful tokens we brought with us (or with some of the ones there were provided). As you can see by the gallery below, they were all very, very different! Each one beautiful in its own way...just like the amazing artist Vanessa German and the interesting woman who created them.
This was a truly meaningful and uplifting event and I hope that more Interesting Women will join us at future workshops.
After the workshop, Vanessa personally walked us through her art installation! Her exhibition, Miracles and Glory Abound, previewed Saturday night at the FIA Gala and did not open to the public until Sunday. This is an amazing exhibit of figures made from found or reclaimed objects. Full of symbolism and beauty, we were privileged to be able to ask questions of the person who created them. You don't often get opportunities to experience that. I highly recommend everyone go see this exhibit at the FIA through April. See image gallery below.
Thank you to Erin, Marlena, Debbie, Kay and of course to the artist Vanessa German for making this a fantastic day!
About the Artist Vanessa German
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vanessa German is the founder of Love Front Porch and ARThouse, a community arts initiative for the children of her Homewood neighborhood. German’s work, which she terms “power figures,” is rooted in spirituality and ritual, most notably the central African tradition of nkisi nkondi or minkisi figures, characterized by protrusions of nails, signifying awakening and healing. Drawing on her experience living in Homewood, the historic African American neighborhood of Pittsburgh, German sees herself as a citizen artist and activist, who creates her work in response to the ricochet of systemic, institutionalized racism, violence, and brutality facing her community. *
Vanessa is the 2018 winner of the Don Tyson award from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Read more here https://news.artnet.com/art-world/vanessa-german-crystal-bridges-prize-1423390.
* - Copy as appeared on Flint Institute of Art website