Gallery  September 14, 2018  Anita Bateman

Vanessa German Recognizes How Society Fails Black Girls

Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, Things Are Not Always What They Seem: Spirit Creature for the Afterlife of Little Black Girls (detail), 2018. Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood

Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, Things Are Not Always What They Seem: Spirit Creature for the Afterlife of Little Black Girls, 2018.

Pittsburgh-based visual and performance artist Vanessa German, known for her activism as well sculptures incorporating found objects and female figurines, considers the experience of a vulnerable, underserved, and criminalized segment of America in the exhibition, Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood. Recalling a foundation of artists who use mixed-media assemblage to relay messages about social issues affecting the black community (see Betye Saar, Renee Stout, and Kahlil Robert Irving ), German’s work combines diasporic consciousness and African religious traditions—specifically referencing minkisi, or spiritual effigies of the Kongo people. German represents the accumulative trauma enacted upon the black body in subtle ways, such as including chilled lead shot bags in She Missed—Without Knowing What She Missed and alluding to the violent murder of Nia Wilson, a Bay Area teenager, by a white supremacist in A Love Poem to Nia Wilson #2. Each work stands on its own platform in the gallery, forming a squad of silent witnesses to the precarious circumstances that reflect systemic injustices.

Carl Hammer Gallery

Installation view, Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood

Clocks, mirrors, birds, and other tchotchkes are repeating motifs throughout this body of work, perhaps symbolizing the delicacy of a childhood denied—or lost time—as black girls are perceived as being older and less innocent than their white counterparts. German’s intervention evokes the idea of protection—how it is denied and how it extends from self—by virtue of the power icons she references. According to Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, the representing gallery, “[these] figures stand united and in formation to show the ways in which black girls save their own lives, create their own paths and contend with their power and pain to triumph in a hostile environment.” True, Black girls, like nkisi nkondi are containers of infinite power, vast worlds, and secret lives. However, resilience is often used as a conciliatory admiration in the face of egregious maltreatment. Triumphing in spite of has become an ongoing predicament.

Vanessa German, The Three Headed Girl, 2018
Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, The Three-Headed Girl: A Comprehensive List of Everything That Will Try and Kill You on a Sunday, or, The Three-Headed Girls Knows Exactly How to Stay Alive, 2018. Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood

Vanessa German, A Love Poem to Nia Wilson #2, 2018
Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, A Love Poem to Nia Wilson #2, 2018. Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood

Vanessa German, All of us-all who knew her-felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her, 2018
Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, All of us-all who knew her-felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her, 2018. Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood
 

Vanessa German, No Springs - Honest Weight, 2018
Carl Hammer Gallery

Vanessa German, No Springs - Honest Weight, 2018. Carl Hammer Gallery, VANESSA GERMAN / Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood

Things Are Not Always What They Seem: A Phenomenology of Black Girlhood is on view at Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago through October 27.

Read more about the social issues German addresses in her works.

About the Author

Anita Bateman

Anita N. Bateman is the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs department at RISD Museum and a PhD candidate in Art History at Duke University. She specializes in modern and contemporary African art and art of the African diaspora. Her interests include the history of photography, social justice art, curatorial studies/museum studies, and intersectional feminism (womanism).