Although I am a sculptor, my formative training includes an extensive pottery apprenticeship where I explore the making, function, and meaning of various kinds of pots and their associated histories . I still regard the vessel as my orientation.
My current ceramic and mixed-media works cross-reference notions of power, adornment, ornamentation, and natural history with objects and surfaces associated with traditional African jewelry and currencies. Specifically, I explore the bead as a symbol for cultural and political identity. The design and form of clay beads are notable ways of distinguishing African societies of various cultural, religious, and geographical backgrounds. The symbolic meaning of beads in early African-American culture is speculative however some archeologists believe that beads were also connected to early slave barter systems. In the 1960s beads were re-popularized and became Black cultural/political signifiers. In this series I juxtapose objects, symbols, and forms with hopes that the viewer will reconsider the relationship between body/adornment and personal or collective notions of power and value. In juxtaposing the history of beads in African-American culture with the values reflected in bling culture (contemporary urban adornment) I negotiate notions of social status, opulence and power with collective efforts to use adornment to sustain tradition, nationality or cultural identity. These necklace-inspired forms are large and heavy like the flashy necklaces associated with bling culture but they also have a simultaneous rootedness in their use of natural forms and transcendence through the shadows they extend across the gallery walls. While they are designed in proximity to the body they are not exactly practical. Their mass and cumbersomeness serve as metaphors for the burdens some of us endure to sustain cultural identity in our global society. Like the enormous amber beaded necklaces worn by Berber women, I hope this simultaneous rootedness and transcendence connects this work to something larger than the self. The center piece of the Gold Bird Series specifically references a vessel in the shape of a quiet, still bird. In addition to referencing a bird in an inanimate state, the gold interior suggests an intimate an elegant offering liking to cupped hands.
De Buck Gallery

April 18, 2019

Meet the Artist: Sharif Bey on his work in "Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018" | Smithsonian American Art Museum | Smithsonian American Art Museum