4th – 28th October 2017
Metamorphosis and mutants, recovering value in the devalued, and finding comfort through building a place to belong are concepts that are prominently featured in my wearable work and in how I choose to live my life. Many of my works include soft textures and vibrant color. These are powerful ways of creating a spectacle, allowing the wearer to step into my place in this world. My strange adornments use materials and forms that are familiar to the general public, creating an accessible point of departure to understand the work. Many of my objects have both obvious and mutated forms that allude to a creature, or maybe even a sidekick or friend. I use both humor and irony in my pieces and I strive for my works to create a push-pull feeling between the viewer and the objects. My current work demonstrates how our experiences can consume and change us into something that we never knew we could be.
The "story" behind the squeaker brooch series
"I live in a really distressed neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. We have one of the most serious open-air drug markets in the entire city and since I’ve moved here, I’ve started to combat the past decade of gruesome violence and drug addiction with other community members. We have an enormous Latino population, which brings immigration issues and language barriers into a very bright light. Issues surrounding race and racism are in the forefront with elderly Eastern Europeans, black youth and Latino immigrants all sharing a tiny neighborhood. We have some gang activity, a lot of prostitution (it is not as glamorous or sexy as the make it look in the movies) and we always have police. I’ve painted a pretty negative picture and I don’t mean to. There are a lot of really great things about my neighborhood and about Baltimore. I live a half mile from one of the largest dog parks in the entire city (my dog loves that place and I do, too). We are a part of an arts district, and just a few blocks away are local grocery stores, shops and a lot of places to get your hair cut. Baltimore is the weirdest, most diverse and humble city that I’ve ever been to. A few months after I moved in to this neighborhood, I started doing a lot of community work – it all started by taking down the drug house next door that was claimed and operated by the Black Gorilla Family – one of Baltimore’s most notorious and dangerous gangs. It took me nine months to get the gang members excited and to have it boarded up with the help of housing, the states attorney’s office, the police, city investigators, my councilman’s office and the sheriff’s department. My home and my family were at serious risk -= if the gang ever found out what I was doing, I could easily not be living to tell this tale. After that, I started doing more to better than only what was next door and I’m still working at it. I never wanted to be an activist – I just moved here and then it happened.
Much of my work has to do with searching for comfort in belonging – paying specific attention to outsider culture. Surprisingly, I’m finding a sense of belonging through this new community – one that I never thought I’d ever be a part of. Initially, I wanted to keep my community activism and my art career spate… it is hasn’t been possible for me. It has become clear that so much of my person and my making revolves around my communities. I decided that I needed to honor these amazing people that I’ve been working with in recent days. They have done so much for me, for our community and for southeast Baltimore.
I started to think about how jewelry and adornment can honor people. Making wearable objects to honor people is not new for me – it’s something I already employ in my larger sideshow/outsider related work. It’s similar to how a crown is an indicator of an important person or how a tattoo can honor a commitment, person or important time.
I made this series of brooches for the people who I have developed the most respect, admiration and gratitude towards in my new found community and I made them thinking of each individual wearer – their skin tone, how they typically dress, how their personality could come across in the piece. Each brooch has a container that also functions as a frame, and a large, plush form that is protruding from it and expanding beyond it. This idea is me – this is where I’m at right now. I don’t fit in our society’s constructed box and my work doesn’t, either. It’s not a painting you can hang on your wall and it’s not a sculpture that you can place on your back patio. It’s too heavy to wear comfortable (or, sometimes at all), but it must be worn. What is it?
Giving the piece to the wearer for the photograph was like handing over a piece of me to each one of them. It was so strange. They didn’t know me as a maker until this moment – they knew me as an activist. The bond and friendships that this project has formed carry great substance and I am grateful.
Making is a way of connecting. I asked each person to come to their individual photo shoot wearing whatever they would normally wear that day. Each of these nine people who stepped out of their personal comfort zone and onto the white backdrop for their photograph had a reaction to being there – to being chosen. They felt honors – sure, this was kind of a weird way of showing my appreciation of them, but they got it. This was the first time that any of these people have ever “modeled” anything. Some of them were nervous and others were really excited for their modeling debut.
I felt lucky to have created this new experience for each of them and then to be able to share it with them. These nine people are obviously connected to me, but now, because they’ve participated in this project, even thought many of them don’t actually know each other, they’re all connected by these experiences.
Before I put a brooch on the individual, I asked, “If you had a weird growth or extremity, which side would it be on?” In my view, after they saw the brooch they would be wearing, not one of the participants thought this questions was strange. Most of the participants kept looking at their piece and touching it during the shoot. A few of them even pet it and said “goodbye” when I packed it back up in its box… almost like they were saying farewell to a pet or friend. It was all so natural and all so odd.
Lastly, as Anne’s face in her photograph might be telling you, there is a secret to each of the brooches. My dog, Henry, always destroys his toys – he loves the ones with the squeakers the most. I started saving them and taking them our of the drawer I was keeping them in and squeaking them. Every time I’d squeak one, Henry would come over, wanting to interact despite there being no toy. This made me consider how people interact, how we communicate and how this takes time and understanding – but how once we get it, it brings us a sense of stability and comfort. Each one of these brooches has a squeaker in it. And, I kid you not, at the phoeo shoots, every single participant who chose to find their brooch’s voice struggled – but they found it and the fact that they found it brought them great joy. This was so symbolic to me – of how we communicate, how it takes time to get to know the individuals in your community and how it takes even more time to find you place there.
Like most of my other work, each brooch has its own personality, it’s onw persona, just like the person who is wearing it. Themes of carrying comfort or a companion, being a spectacle and/or an oddity come through in this series.
Each brooch is simply named after the person who I made it for."