My work has always addressed the ordinary and extraordinary things that we humans do. The everyday, the mundane, and sometimes the things we seem less inclined to speak about openly including the things we least like about ourselves as human beings and those things that sometimes reveal us when we are at our highest selves. All are open for dialogue in my work.
Interview and comments by Shirley Woodson, NCA President and Artist.
Valerie Fair is a painter, conceptual artist, ceramicist, and designer whose media is the message. A Detroit artist who has lived in Arizona for the past 21 years has maintained her artistic residency here through her exhibitions and online art journal.
Artist On The Cutting Edge.
Her art addresses the contemporary political issues imbedded in African American Culture and experience and their impact on the American political landscape. In a recent interview, Fair explains her perspective and practice in art making.
“As an artist it is important to me to make relevant pieces of art that reflect my culture, otherwise I fail to see the point. The stories I wish to convey are those that define our identity and dismiss negative values. In my early practice both paintings and fiber referenced issues that I wanted to confront such as “Good Hair and Bad Hair”; “Dark Girls Don’t Wear Red”; highlighting the full beauty we possess. We had not yet engaged a black gaze.”
The painting with text, “Daddy Said There Is No Such Thing As Bad Hair”, (1994) alludes to our adoption of negative thoughts about our hair. These were the attitudes of those who enslaved us. The work was based on real intervention by my father who heard his children talking and referring to “good hair”.
In the Red Dress series (1996), a young black girl wearing a bright red dress, seeks to reassign the color red as beautiful on her dark skin. As we continue to define ourselves and our identity through our own eyes the process is binding. This topic is further addressed in the photograph by artist Carrie Mae Weems, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall...” from the children’s fable, Snow White. In an early painting exhibition, Kitchen Cabinets, reminisced on the joy of children’s outdoor games, to further define the beauty of black life.
As the nation watched in horror the Katrina hurricane and its destruction in New Orleans 1995. It revealed the inequity of government response to the African American citizens and the horrific results of racism cast upon our communities. The press referred to the hurricane victims as refugees. In the wake of this tragedy where hundreds of lives were lost, displacement, lack of medical support, political decisions led to little or no support for black victims.
My response led to the Katrina series of paintings and sculpture. It was important to me to present another point of view, therefore I created ceramic “Katrina Houses”. The houses would tell the story from the eye of the storm.
My initial goal was to create 500 houses with each one containing a small object owned by a New Orleans resident. The 50 mixed media paintings became a part of a portfolio series with 15 nationally known artists.
My current work is based on “Black Life Matters” issues that are front and center. The murder of African Americans by a police force whose job it is to serve and protect. Instead, we as citizens and taxpayers are paying to be murdered in our homes and streets without cause. My installation, entitled.
“The Egungun Revisited, Let Us Pray”, references the nine parishioners who were murdered in their South Carolina church at Bible Study. The young men and women who have been murdered at the hands of police including Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown Jr., Tanisha Parker, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and too many others are also referenced in the talisman around the neck of the Egungun figure* in an installation.
*Regarding Fair’s installations, her selection and use and treatment of materials heightens the emotional response of the viewer. “To fully experience the installations, she explains, it is important to spend some time with it to totally understand, see it and absorb its meaning. After much thought and research, I tend to pick fiber materials least valued by society. Because what is seen as women’s work, being undervalued, I sometimes sew, embroider, and bead the material. It could be cotton muslin, linen or felt. I like to embroider the piece of art in thread that matches the material which causes the viewer to really look to see the embroidered word and then decipher its deeper meaning.”
So, one finds the embroidered words, Black Life Matters, Black Love, Black is Beautiful, Black on Black and names of victims expressed in a tribute manner on beautifully designed fiber objects transforming them.
Central in Valerie Fair’s practice is her development and ideation of work from the center. Material becomes the subject that builds messages. Configuration gathers as the works evolve. Her approach serves to intensify the communication between maker and viewer.
National Conference of Artists Michigan
18100 Meyers/ Detroit, MI 48235