Cleo Lewis & Sarah Smith – The Intersections of Blackness

Cleo Lewis & Sarah Smith – The Intersections of Blackness

January 20 – February 5

THE ANDERSON is pleased to present The Intersections of Blackness, featuring the artists Cleo Lewis and Sarah Smith. United in making work about their respective black identities, they are both seniors in the BFA Sculpture program of VCUarts. In The Intersections of Blackness,  Sarah Smith and Cleo Lewis explore their heritage through their relationship with being part of the African diaspora in the United States today. Each artist investigates the unique intersection at which their blackness falls. Through the cannon of sculpture The artists seek to research, understand, and connect with their black ancestry.

Sarah Smith was adopted from Haiti at five months old, and soon after began traveling all over the world with her mother. Over the years, she was immersed in a lot of different African cultures. Sarah’s recent work has been inspired by the revelation that she is from several countries in Africa as a result of her DNA test. In her work today, Sarah seeks to pay homage to her ancestors and birth family.  

From the Artist: In the right corner is an African clay self-portrait. The back depicts the Haitian flag and 29 scarification bumps to represent the age of her birth mother’s passing, and 21 concave ones for Sarah’s age when she sculpted it. From left to right, the masks represent: Haiti, Mali, two from Cameroon, and Nigeria. The wooden statue underneath is a parental Vodun figure dedicated to her birth father. The House is titled, “To Mom and Dad, Love Naomie.” It is a commemoration to her birth parents. Sarah was born in Mirebalais, Haiti, she built what she believed her home looked like. The walls are adorned with decals of documents, family photos and certificates linking to her life in Haiti and abroad. Her home is built upon rubble to symbolize the earthquakes in Haiti. The roof on the right of the house reads, “Mwen sonje ou Manman,” translating to, “I miss you mama” in Creole. The screen projection playing on the house shows family videos Sarah’s adoptive mom took of her throughout her childhood. She is very fond of those memories, and is very grateful to have experienced them and showcase them in her work and to the public. Sarah believes that making these art pieces connects her to her ancestors and family she has never met. She hopes they are proud of her. 

Cleo Lewis – The Box Car Project

Cleo Lewis was born in Cary, North Carolina to parents of mixed heritage that identify exclusively as African American for 8 generations. This can be explained in the principle of the one drop rule. This intersection is one Lewis explores in their art as a result of growing up in a family that existed in the inbetweens of a racially fabricated society. 

Earlier this year, I came across photos of my family from the 1930s. Images depicting my grandfather and his family in boyhood. My grandfather’s family identified as Black although they have native and Caucasian heritage. This intersection is rare today but far rarer in the 1930s. I grew up seeing these images as just “old black and white photos”. However as an adult, I have become enamored with not only their distinct features, but their setting and composition and most importantly: the subject. My grandfather passed away 4 years ago. During his Time on earth he was a father, a surgeon, a gardener, an engineer and maker and baker. In our time together I was hesitant and unsure of how to approach him because of his prickly disposition. The act of making a box car like he did in his early boyhood became a form of ancestral worship and a way for me to connect with him spiritually. The boxcar itself is a monument to him and all the opportunities his struggles have afforded me and my nuclear family. It also celebrates the gift of  aptitude and affinity with using my hands and tinkering which I believe to come from him.