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A series of works constructed of hair, thread and combs by Sonya Clark on view at Contemporary Wing
Sonya Clark.Twist, 2012. Combs. 18 x 18 x 10 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Contemporary Wing and the Artist.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Contemporary Wing presents Ahead of Hair, a series of unique works constructed of hair, thread and combs by Sonya Clark. Clark’s work, a critique of “hair history,” explores the contentious relationship African Americans have with hair by reinventing its use as a contemporary art form. According to Clark: Hair holds the place where race resides.

Ahead of Hair, modernizes an otherwise anachronistic art form, elevating it from merely craft, popularized by women in late 19th and early 20th century America, to a form of social and artistic commentary. By exploring styling techniques and materials – such as the kind of hair you wear, the salon you regular, and the style you adorn – Clark’s works incorporate ancillary objects used to manipulate hair, natural fibers and threads of human hair in dreadlock or free form.

By playing on our ability to understand the complexity of patterns, Clark simultaneously addresses race and identity issues by braiding or twisting hair and/or thread in various patterns and then weaving those patterns into a canvas producing negative space, invoking human skin or scalps. For example, in this body of work, Clark riffs on the color-blocking employed by Josef Albers. Whereas Albers’ use of flat color was meant to challenge our understanding of color in absolute (versus relative) terms, Clark employs texture and color to achieve a similar effect.

Clark, a native of Washington DC, created many of these works during her residency at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy last summer. Sonya Clark is the Chair of Craft and Material Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, was named by United States Artists as one of its 2011 USA Fellows, is a past recipient of a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, an Art Matters Grant, the Lillian Elliott Award, a Virginia Museum of Fine Art Fellowship, a Rockefeller Bellagio Residency and a Pollock-Krasner Award. Her work has been exhibited in more than 250 museums and galleries in over 20 countries and with many works in permanent collections.

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A series of works constructed of hair, thread and combs by Sonya Clark on view at Contemporary Wing

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