International artist recounts hardships through cutouts
An international artist spoke to students Thursday at the Blaffer Art Museum and shared stories of her reshaped identity and studio practice.
British-Nigerian artist Mary Evans brought her unique perspective to the Visiting Artist and Scholar Series in a presentation of her installations from 1992 through 2013. Evans’ work draws not only from her past but also from historical research. After she moved to Europe at the age of 5, she was distanced from her heritage. Her work plays with simple visual elements, which she describes as “visual Esperanto.” It is a representation of her strife and the trial of connecting to her past through a different set of cultural lenses.
“I am interested in making work about aspects of African diaspora, but having said that, because of the African diaspora, I went up in Britain,” Evans said. “I have a very Eurocentric art education, so I looked at all those paintings — all the Manets, the Monets, the Cezannes — I know them really well. I kind of grew up with them, but I’m kind of interested now in using that cultural capital to investigate a kind of culture that I didn’t know as much about because of my movement.”
At first glance, her simple and playful images are reminiscent of childhood cutouts, but the crashing of waves and cries of men aboard a dead man’s ship can be heard in the distance.
“One of the things that crops up a lot in my work is this kind of bittersweet relationship between innocent — seemingly innocent — material and the imagery with a loaded kind of background,” Evans said.
The ingredients listed on her gingerbread men cookies include flour, sugar, ginger, molasses, all spice, blood, sweat and tears. Her edible artwork served as a reminder of the dark past of slavery and the African diaspora.
Many students connected to her personal and pictographic narrative. Art history junior Brandon Zech felt enlightened by Evans’ story and studio practice.
“The way that her life impacted her work struck me personally,” Zech said. “I only expected a lecture, but I got a story. Evans is a fascinating artist.”
A Cynthia Woods Mitchell postdoctoral curatorial fellow at the Blaffer Museum, Amy Powell, coordinated with the School of Art faculty to invite Evans as the first guest lecturer of the 2013-14 season. Through the Innovation Grants program of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Powell received more than $21,000 for the current season of visiting lecturers.
With this funding, she said she hopes to share with students what it means to be a prolific, professional artist.
“Many art departments have lecture series. It’s one of the best and most common ways to bring international artists and have them interact with students. It’s very vital,” Powell said.
Powell also invited Evans to incorporate her work into the latest Blaffer exhibit, “Feast: Radical Hospitality,” which held its opening reception Friday.
“I wanted to raise the most sinister aspects of serving food, and she does that through the history of slavery,” Powell said. “When I thought what I wanted to add (to “Feast”), this project came to mind immediately.”
The next guest lecturers of the season are Austin Young and David Burns from the artist collective Fallen Fruit. They will be on campus at 1 p.m. Sept. 26 in room 110 of the School of Art.