Responding to the political and social landscapes through art
Every two years the Renwick Gallery hosts a spectacular event that brings together four emerging artist to showcase their work. This year ‘stheme of the invitational is “Disrupting Craft” wherein four artists—Tanya Aguiñiga, Sherif Bey, Dustin Farnsworth, and Stephanie Syjuco—respond the contemporary political and social landscapes via their art. Their observations and messages are profound, ranging from social justice, human suffering, cultural identities and nationality, and economic issues.
In a video featuring Abraham Thomas, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, introduces each of the artists and their preferred mediums: fiber, ceramics, wood, and multiple elements of craft. According to Thomas these four artists reveal “…the broader narratives about skilled making and the handmade. With a sense of agency and advocacy, they respond to urgent social and political isseus of our time, while also revisiting their own identities and communities.” The artwork on display offers “…moments of contemplation on the rapidly transforming world around us, and disriupts the status quo to bring us together, alter our perspective, and lead us to a more empathetic, compassionate future.”
Los Angles based Tanya Aguiñiga is artist/designer/craftsperson who was raised in Tijuana, Mexico. She hs created various collaborative installations with the Border Arts Workshop, an artists' group that engages the languages of activism and community-based public art. Her current work uses natural material as a performative medium to tell stories and generate dialogues about identity, culture and gender while creating community. Her approach to art and craft has helped Museums and non-profits in the United States and Mexico diversify their audiences by connecting marginalized communities through collaboration. For “Disrupting Craft” one of her pieces Art Made Between Opposing Sides, she asks the question, "What are your thoughts when you cross this border?" Each participant is given a piece of string and their emotions and experiences get tied to other stories making a beautiful piece of artwork that unites many voices and stories.
Pittsburgh artist Sharif Bey works with ceramics and teaches at Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts. He produces functional pottery and ceramic/mixed media scultpture. His artwork centers on the African and Oceania’s visual heritage as well as contemporary African-Amercan culture. Through his work, he explores the cultual significance of ornamentation with large-scale beads that are assembled into adornment pieces.
Dustin Farnsworth carves wood into evocative depictions of human suffering. Rendering subjects within desolate architectural settings—some recognizable, others more abstract and geometric—the structures have evolved into cumbersome headdresses, obscuring and overwhelming his figures. In recent work, Farnsworth uses abstract forms to address pressing social issues, influenced by protests and communities torn apart by police shootings. His piece “XLIII, references the forty-three people under eighteen who were killed by police officers in the United States in 2015.
Stephanie Syjuco, an artist and professor based in Oakland, California, formulates large-scale installations that address contemporary social and economic issues, including political dissent and the legacy of colonialism. In 2007, she launched The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy), in which she solicited public participation in fabricating hand-crocheted versions of high-end handbags. Since then, Syjuco has developed an array of projects that wittily critique the global consumer economy. In her 2017 exhibition CITIZENS, Syjuco examined notions of citizenship, protest, and belonging within marginalized communities amid today’s political climate.
Text was edited from various sources including artists' websites and exhibition text from the Renwick Gallery. Disrupting Craft runs through May 5, 2019. For more information visit https://americanart.si.edu.