In The Frame: Artists in Their Own Words

Vanessa German calls on a variety of skills to create works of art

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Vanessa German
Sculptor and performance artist Vanessa German of Homewood creates her version of "Tar Babies" of early 20th-century advertising iconography.

"As a sculptor, I always work on the things that I love, create things that rise out of that place of ethnic clarity for me."

Vanessa German

In the Frame is an occasional Post-Gazette video series on artists and the arts scene in Pittsburgh, with videography by Nate Guidry and reporting by Mary Thomas.

The work: We visit artist Vanessa German in her Homewood studio, where she creates sculpture that is figural but also symbolic, composed of found objects but also constructed, shaped by her interventions both physical and contemplative. Ms. German is simultaneously gentle and forceful as she explores issues such as race, gender and culture, exemplified in her "Tar Babies" series, wherein she blends the iconography of African power figures and derogatory imagery applied to African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her American Girl series, similarly, points out disparities between societal ideals and the way such constructions may be exclusionary.

The artist: Sculptor, photographer, performance artist, poet ... Vanessa German is a true multi-disciplinary artist, as well known in performance circles as in visual arts. She's been making sculpture since high school where she was voted "most artistic kid." As a Los Angeles resident, she began performing earlier than that. She's acted in, for example, every Gilbert and Sullivan play, but says, "The switch for me in performance was when I began doing my own words." On May 20, she performed her original work "Root" for "First Voice: A Pittsburgh International Black Arts Festival" at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown. With the support of a Wilson Center fellowship, Ms. German created "Root," which she describes as a "spoken word opera," a genre that she's established. Look for one of her sculptures in the Art of the State exhibition at The State Museum in Harrisburg in June and for works from the American Girl series at Mendelson Gallery, Shadyside in July. She will be given a solo exhibition comprising installation and performance, "Tar Baby and Doowop: Everything You Need For Your Modern Household Mercantile," in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's 709 Penn Gallery, 709 Penn Avenue, Downtown, July 9 to Aug. 30.


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