Sonya Clark is a multimedia, African American artist, who works with textiles, sculpture, prints, performance art, photography, video art, and interactive art to address the African Diaspora and themes of race and identity as the consequence of slavery.
“I gained an appreciation for craft and the value of the handmade primarily from my maternal grandmother who was a professional tailor.” Clark has a B.A. from Amherst College where she received an honorary doctorate in 2015. Her second degree was a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She received an M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art where in 2011 she was given a Distinguished Alumni Award. Clark was a Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts and Commonwealth Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University where she served as chair of the Craft/Material Studies Department from 2006 until 2017. Clark currently is Professor of Art at Amherst College.
Hair is often central as form, subject, and metaphor in her work. In 2015, she asked students from campuses nationwide to share stories of their own hair for one of her installations. The stories were put on paper which was dyed in shades from blonde to dark brunette and then twisted into shapes that resembled real hair. Viewers could take one of the ‘hairs’, unravel it, and read the story that someone had written. The students, in turn, were asked to leave their own stories about their own relationships with their hair.
Although New England in colonial times had a small population of enslaved people, Clark’s textile work and performance art deal with slavery in the Confederacy. Her “Unraveling” performances invited visitors to work with her and carefully unravel a Confederate battle flag thread by thread. Together they were able to dismantle half an inch in an hour, creating piles of red, white, and blue threads.
Her 2019 “Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know” deconstructs the visual culture of the Confederacy. It is a horizontal white weaving, some fifteen by thirty feet, that references General Robert E. Lee’s ordering of a soldier to wave a dishcloth near the Appomattox Court House. This act signaled the surrender of the South. Clark proposes that this big white cloth should be used as an alternative to the Confederate flag.
In her video work is a performance piece from “Reversals.” Here Clark is filmed wearing a colonial dress and scrubbing a floor with a dishcloth adorned with the Confederate flag. The floor was covered with dust, collected from sites where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written. Her scrubbing reveals words on the floor from the preamble to the Declaration, “We hold these truths . . .”
Her 2021 “Roots Unbound” is a sculpture made from dreadlocks suspended from the ceiling and joined together to resemble a pendulum. It hangs over a white parachute on the floor which is shaped like the United States. Looking like the roots and branches of a tree, the work conveys a sense of pain as the hair is fastened from the ceiling and pulled down by gravity.
Clark has exhibited in over 350 museums and galleries world-wide. She has received a United States Artists Fellowship, a Pollock Krasner award, and an Art Prize Grand Jurors Award, among others. She had had residencies and fellowships in China, France, Italy, North Carolina, and Washington D.C.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Musees d’Angers, among others.