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Sonya Clark Uses Hair to Tell the Story of Black Life

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2009.

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth.

With Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend, the National Museum of Women in the Arts honors the artist with a 25-year retrospective spanning Clark's prolific career. Currently, in addition to seeing the exhibition in person, visitors are also invited to peruse the show online through a virtual tour that highlights 33 of the 100 works on view at the museum. In a feature for the Washington City Paper, Shantay Robinson discusses Clark’s artistic practice, which mines centuries of Black experience, from the earliest moments of the transatlantic slave trade to the current movement for pride in one’s natural hair. Used as both form and content, Black hair becomes a textile for Clark and is utilized as a mundane material that other artists might use, such as silk or cotton.

“Hair, as a symbol of Blackness in these artworks, bonds the people to her work and speaks of their potency and permanence. She manipulates fibers to contextualize the heinous experiences of Black people based on something as natural but disquieting as hair. Tatter, Bristle, and Mend reestablishes Black hair as beautiful after centuries of Black people being told their natural hair is inappropriate.” - Shantay Robinson
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