Based in New York, Swoon started as a mixed-media street artist but quickly expanded to installation and performance art, often with an activist bent. At the end of the 1990s, she was a superstar in graffiti circles known for her life-size prints and black-and-white paper cutouts of human figures, pasted onto city walls.
Swoon (Caledonia Dance Curry) lives and works in Brooklyn. In 1999, two years before she graduated from Pratt Institute, she made life-size prints of everyday people and pasted them on graffiti-decorated walls in New York City. The technical sophistication and expressive force of her graphic portraits are reminiscent of German Expressionistic graphic style and American Social Realism. Yet, her drawings are unique for their feminine embellishment of delicately ornate, filigreed cut-out paper.
Many of her projects have political undertones. Visiting Juarez, Mexico, she noticed pink wooden crosses commemorating the more than 1,000 murdered young Mexican women. Her 2008 memorial to these victims is a portrait of one of them, Silvia Elena Rivera Morales, whose face and shoulders rise from a pattern of white cutouts, some in the shape of skulls.
Swoon’s involvement with nautical performance art dates from 2005 when she and volunteers built her first boat, six homemade rafts lashed together. It sailed down the Mississippi to protest the American bombing in Afghanistan. In 2008, Swoon created her “Swimming Cities of the Switchback Seas” fleet, which sailed on the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan. In 2009, Swoon and her crew sailed uninvited into the Venice Biennale on an armada of boats made from found materials and junk.
In 2010, Swoon began a project in Haiti in response to the ravages of the horrific earthquake that devastated the country. This evolved into a long-term commitment to help build sustainable structures for the Haitian people. Whatever money Swoon makes in art sales is poured back into this project. In 2011, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Swoon built a temporary installation for this city. This is her monumental “Thalassa,” a 20 feet tall, giant human-octopus hybrid form, which she suspended from the ceiling of the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
In 2014, the Brooklyn Museum gave Swoon a solo show, “Submerged Motherlands,” the first ever devoted to a living street artist, let alone a woman. It was commissioned after Hurricane Sandy and was meant to be about rising sea levels and climate change. It incorporates a gigantic 60 foot tree, sculptural rafts used in Venice, her “Thalassa” hybrid form, portraits of friends, and a maternal image of her mother as a response to her death.