Black Sheepish

Artist Statement

As a self-taught artist, my practice is informed by the Ancestral and the Everyday. I am descended from Belorussian weavers and Scottish wool mill workers, granddaughter to a woman who asserted herself as a feminist artist decades before it was part of the mainstream critical discourse, and daughter to a woman who instilled in me a sense of freedom in creativity and production of work. Amidst the strong feminine energy and creative magic that surrounded my childhood, there was trauma and hardship: tragic loss, chronic illness, poverty, disease, addiction. It was growing up in an unstable environment that pushed me to escape into my art, where I could manifest my own reality, where there was freedom, and where I was safe with my work, away from the physical realm that betrayed me first by destabilizing my home life, then continued to betray me by the way it transformed my body into something unruly, an easy target for abuse and assault. In fibre art, a medium I worked within for years in different capacities - soft sculpture, embroidery, fabric painting - I am deeply soothed and find safe intimacy and connection, in the way combing an animal’s coat with fingertips or playing with a lover’s hair is soothing. It was through my recent attempts at learning to weave that I came to find a deep love of wool, and some cold, wet seasons spent isolated in a drafty cabin on Canada’s west coast, under layers of sweaters and blankets, underscored that appreciation.


The formal properties of wool are contradictory: it is soft, but strong. It insulates and protects, but is vulnerable, yielding so readily to shears and dyes. By employing wool as a medium for mask-making, I aim to deploy its polarities in a specifically feminine ambiguation that explores the interplay of corporeality, embodiment, horror and trauma. A mask, which functions as an assertion of fearlessness (disguising timidity), and of subversion – the wearer becoming an interloper, making incursions into and occupying forbidden spaces – can both disguise and amplify expressions of grief and rage. The looking-glass quality of the mask is formally unique, as it is offers two points-of-view through which it can be experienced. From the vantage point of the wearer, these masks become material devices for liberation and empathy, allowing the wearer to enjoy the freedom of anonymity and the rare intimacy of assuming the emotional expression of another human, while from the perspective of the viewer, they are abstractions of a lived experience, seeking to provoke inquiry and understanding. 


My personal history of bodily horror and resilience – informed by experiences of sexual trauma, cancer, reconstructive surgery, chronic pain, and the critical gaze through which imperfections of the female form are perceived and magnified – is captured in the engineering of each mask. My practice looks to miniaturize the medically invasive and the psychologically looming events of my own history into tiny detail through meticulously handworked stitches, using a palette inspired by anatomy textbooks and the feminine colour-coding of late twentieth century commercial ad copy; like this, I become surgeon to my own trauma and midwife to my own self-delivery. There is a lexical duality in the word "worn", which I think my work plays with: the mask, as apparel, is passively worn by a face; while the wear-and-tear of daily life, with its attendant violence, is expressed in the adjectival "worn". By attaching these qualities to the act of the masquerade, I seek to celebrate strength and vulnerability through intimate connection.




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