Vanessa German: “Power Figures” Armed with a Mantra for Justice

By Jaimee Swift

Lessons On How to Ride the Eagle, the secret of charm is color, Greater © Vanessa German, 2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York.

Charleena Lyles. Tanisha Anderson. Yvette Smith. Miriam Casey. Shelly Fray. Darnisha Harris. Malissa Williams. Alesia Thomas. Shantel Davis. Rekia Boyd. Shereese Francis. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Karen Smith.

It can be a unique yet daunting position to be a Black woman in America. The cognitive dissonance of having to survive in a world which renders you inferior but relies so heavily on your strength can be overwhelming. The intersectionality of oppressions — your race, gender, sexual identity, class and more — are often overlooked as afterthoughts; in which you are constantly fighting and advocating for a place and space in a world which does not recognize your existence. Rendered as a “superwoman,” you are expected to save everyone but yourself. In the face of pervasive violence, who is supposed to save you?

Tarika Wilson. Kathryn Johnston. Alberta Spruill. Kendra James. Sandra Bland. Korryn Gaines. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland.

Vanessa German celebrates the strength, the lives and the overall essence of Black women and girls through her powerful visuals, sculptures, and artistry. An award-winning multidisciplinary artist, German uses both personal experiences and social issues related to gun violence and state-sanctioned violence to craft artistic narratives that passionately and fearlessly blends art, activism, and social justice. A poet, performer, photographer and sculptor, her eclectic and ethereal artwork unabashedly speaks to the reclamation of power and agency of Black women and girls, in a world that has tried to thwart their potential via violence; “a for us, by us” stance that, just like German, is in all ways nuanced and always unapologetic.

“Whether as a Black person, a woman, a lover, a queer woman, a sister — any issue, any concern, any ailment, physical, political, any splinter that cuts into my being, can be worked out through the creative process,” she says. “This is why I obsessively draw, paint, and create images of the Black female body, out of ordinary sacred, everyday objects in ways that pronounce the holiness and pronounce the power of creativity and the being.”

Defined by German as “power figures,” her bold and brilliant sculptures of Black women almightily adorned with random artifacts — including household objects, African beads and antique items — gathered in her predominantly, African-American neighborhood of Homewood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, showcases the profound majesty and dynamism of the Africana aesthetic. If art is an extension of the artist and is a reflection of their vitality, then German’s work is meditative of not just the physical, but also the spiritual and ancestral.

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