Born in Washington DC to a psychiatrist from Trinidad and a nurse from Jamaica, Sonya Clark’s work draws from the legacy of crafted objects and the embodiment of skill. As an African American artist, craft is a means to honor her lineage and expand notions of both American-ness and art. She uses materials as wide ranging as textiles, hair, beads, combs, and sound to address issues of nationhood, identity, and racial constructs. Clark is a full professor in the Department of Art and the History of Art at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts. From 2006 until 2017, Clark was a full professor and Chair of the Craft and Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, Virginia. She held the title Distinguished Research Professor in the School of the Arts a VCU and was a Commonwealth Professor. Formerly she was Baldwin-Bascom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and she was awarded their first Mid-Career Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011. She also holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2015 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater Amherst College where she received a BA in psychology. She has exhibited her work in over 350 museums and galleries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. She is the recipient of several awards including an Anonymous Was a Woman Award, an Art Prize Grand Jurors co-prize, a Pollock-Krasner Grant, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship in Italy, a BAU Camargo Fellowship in France, a Red Gate Residency in China, a Civitella Ranieri Residency in Italy, an 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, a United States Artist Fellowship, and an Art Matters Grant. Her work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Musees d’Angers in France among several other institutions. Several publications have reviewed her work including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Forbes Magazine, Sculpture Magazine, Huffington Post, Time Magazine, Artnet News, Hyperallergic, and several others.
Craft techniques and mundane materials connect us. Simple objects become cultural interfaces. Through them I navigate accord and discord. When trying to unravel complex issues, I am instinctively drawn to ordinary things that connect to my personal narrative: a comb, a cloth, or a strand of hair. Charged with agency, these objects have the mysterious ability to reflect or absorb us. As a point of departure, I find my image, my personal story, in an object. But it is also the object’s ability to act as a rhizome, the multiple ways in which it can be discovered or read by a wide audience, that draws me in. How does the object root itself in our personal and collective narratives? How does the mundane get absorbed and transformed into the imagination? To sustain my practice, I milk the object, its potential, its image, and its materiality and history. I manipulate objects and materials in a formal manner to engage the viewer in conversation about collective meaning. I trust that my stories, your stories, our stories collectively are held in the object. A visual vocabulary forms a facet of language ranging from the vernacular to the political to the poetic. In this way, the everyday “thing” becomes a lens through which we may better see one another.