In “Colonial Ruptures” the artist Sharif Bey defies the constraints of time with fragmented figures


#ceramic #nails #sculpture #Sharif Bey

August 3, 2022

Grace Ebert

“The Oviary I”, earthenware, mixed media. All images © Sharif Bey, shared with permission.

Artist Sharif Bey focuses his practice on recontextualization, a process he undertakes by breaking long-held perspectives through fragments. His figurative sculptures fuse disparate materials and broad cultural references across generations and eras – his works in particular are undated – drawing both on the aesthetics of West-Central Africa, particularly the spiritual protectors known as nkisiand the industrial histories of his family and the current city of Syracuse.

Bey’s work, largely made around portions of his own ceramic vessels, is on view at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum in a solo exhibition entitled Colonial Fractures, which questions the inherent value and power of objects, especially as they are ripped from their original culture by colonial violence and structural racism. Bent nails and rusty spikes recall the artist’s family ties to boilermaking, a trade that exhibition curator Sequoia Miller links to the limitations of work for black men in the 1960s: “It was one of the few opportunities , such as African American families in the middle class. [Bey is] to reflect on his connection of this whole line of work, production, middle-class identity and connecting it to African-American identity, [to] Access to African cultural resources.”

Bey combines these corroded metals with broken pieces of ceramic and a reconstructed medley of his earlier sculptures, which he has broken up and repositioned into new figures. Their expressive, earthen faces often feature a crack in one eye or cheek, while aura-like rings of found scraps surround their glorified forms. Each piece is deeply rooted in its original contexts, yet open-ended in the questions it raises, a pairing the artist expands on in a statement accompanying the exhibition:

I am inspired by folklore, functional ceramics, modernism, natural history and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works examine the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs and question how the meanings of symbols, objects and functions change across cultures and over time.

In addition to Colonial Fractures, which can be seen until August 28th, the Everson Museum offers a comprehensive overview of Bey’s works until August 14th. You can find more of his sculptures on his website and on Instagram.

“Boilermaker”, earthenware, mixed media.

“Uplifted Faces”, earthenware, mixed media.

“Yardagain”, earthenware, mixed media.

“Captains Wheel”, earthenware, mixed media.

Lion Bird Series: Alpha, earthenware, mixed media.

“Choir singers”, earthenware, mixed media.

#ceramic #nails #sculpture #Sharif Bey

Are such stories and artists important to you? Become a Colossal member today and support independent art publishers for just $5 a month. You’ll connect with a community of like-minded readers passionate about contemporary art, read articles and newsletters ad-free, continue our interview series, receive discounts and early access to our limited-edition print publications, and more. Join now!

Leave a Comment