The Queue: Sonya Clark

The Queue: Sonya Clark

Discover what individuals from our craft community are into right now.

Published on Tuesday, September 29, 2020.
Cover graphic for The Queue featuring Sonya Clark

Introducing the Legacy series of The Queue

Alongside the winners our 2020 Awards being featured in the October/November 2020 issue of American Craft, the Legacy series of The Queue offers a platform for this group of incredible artists and advocates to share personally about their lives and work. Plus, take in their shortlists of exciting projects, people to follow, content to consume, and more.

When materials speak louder than words

Based in Massachusetts, Sonya Clark is a textile artist, professor of art at Amherst College, and one of our 2020 Fellows. Read about Sonya and experience her work in "Honoring Accomplishments" in the Legacy issue of American Craft. @sysclark

Portrait of 2020 ACC Fellow Sonya Clark

Photo: Nicholas Calcott

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I craft objects and installations. I perform actions. I engage others in collaborations. I utilize the language of textiles, politics of hair, and the powerful resonance held in words and materials. I do these things to celebrate culture, interrogate historical imbalances, and highlight injustices.

As an ACC Fellow, what responsibilities come with this type of recognition?
Any recognition belongs to my mother, father, and the familial and cultural mothers and fathers before them. I am here and I am heir to their irrepressible ingenuity, grace, and resilience. The fullness of their humanity is written in my DNA. My duty is to represent that legacy, widen the path for others, and clear the way for the unimaginable, just as they did for me.

What type of legacy do you hope to leave with your work and career?
Ideas outlive us like distant suns pressing into the future. Such beacons have inspired me to use craft to hold complex ideas in simple materials. May my efforts continue the legacy. May they be a pinprick marking our collective work across generations. May my legacy help others form new constellations of thought and ignite fresh light amidst the weight of these times.

What’s one go-to tool in your toolkit that the world should know about?
I am going to redefine “tool” here as something that is a catalyst for the work. That’s easy: books and music. Stimulus happens in the space of a good sentence. Or, as I put down one book and pick up another. And music, so much happens between the pulse of a rhythm and the sound of a note. I am married to scholar and musician Darryl Harper. His music drifts in my studio and eases my mind. And, whenever I am stuck, a little Bill Withers or Nina Simone effectively dislodges the barrier.

What’s your favorite social media post you’ve seen recently, and why?
I have been following a project by scholar Renee Ater (@slavery_monuments) on Instagram in which she regularly posts the name and lifespan of a Black person murdered by police. Each post is a headstone, collectively a graveyard, and, ultimately, a call for a reckoning. And speaking of monuments, the community intervention of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, is profound and beautiful.

What research or writing are you doing, or seeing others do, that has you inspired?
After re-reading Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, I developed Twist, a script based on the curl pattern of African hair. Twist pushes back on the cultural dominance of the Roman Alphabet. I am implementing it in a variety of projects and will make it widely available. I am also launching a collaborative artwork, exhibition, and fundraiser called the Solidarity Book Project, which engages folks in the physical manipulation of books that have influenced their thinking about racial and social justice while providing resources for book-starved BIPOC communities.

Ideas outlive us like distant suns pressing into the future. Such beacons have inspired me to use craft to hold complex ideas in simple materials.

What book should we be reading or paying attention to right now?
I am rarely reading one book. Nor do I think one book is THE book. I am usually listening to two audible books while working my way through a never-ending stack of new reads and re-reads. Right now, inspiration is coming from Imani Perry's Breathe, Zadie Smith's Intimations, bell hooks' Bone Black, Ross Gay's Book of Delights, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kali Fajardo-Anstine's Sabrina and Corina, Ocean Vuong's On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous, Nell Painter's The History of White People, and James Baldwin: The Last Interview. I could go on, but here’s the important takeaway: if you aren't regularly reading books by brilliant BIPOC authors, that is a problem that should be fixed immediately.

Cover of Breathe by Imani Perry

 

 

Cover of The Color Purple by Alice Walker

 

Cover of Intimations by Zadie Smith

 

 

Cover of James Baldwin The Last Interview

If you could purchase any artist's work for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
Heaven would be to have the exterior of my home painted by the extraordinary South African artist Esther Mahlangu. Then, I would request large beaded installations inside by Esther or Joyce Scott or Nick Cave. Even better would be a collaboration. What joy that would bring! I already feel blessed because each of these artists has graced me with gifts of their work. Expanding the scale to what I'm imagining has my heart smiling.

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