Politics of Invisibility: Interview with Sharon Norwood
Sharon Norwood’s artistic vision is entangled with hair and she loves the transformational simplicity of a line. All of her current work revolves around hair and the drawing line.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto, she is today working on her MFA at Florida State University in Tallahassee and maintaining a studio in Dunedin. In 2016, she won Best of the Bay Critic’s Pick for Best Emerging Artist in Creative Loafing. So here at Creative Pinellas HQ we thought it’d be nice to catch up in Sharon’s world.
I called while she was at a Panera bread in Tallahassee, working on her pre-thesis research papers, AKA getting lost in a technology loop. She keeps having to force herself to get back on task.
Are you just playing on social media?
Well, yeah. I’m doing it but five minutes and then I’m back again. One of my friends stopped doing (social media) during the week and they only do it on the weekends. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?
Oh yeah, it sounds so easy.
(We laugh because it’s not.)
Sharon keeps busy with overlapping projects She was in the National Gallery of Jamaica in 2016 where she exhibited her GIF “Let it rain” and also the Atlanta Biennale in 2016, which featured two digital collages and the sink full of hair that she also showed at the Music Box project that came to Tampa from New Orleans. She has just scored a residency in Leipzig, the largest city in the state of Saxony, Germany for three months, where studio space is provided. It’s her first trip to Europe.
“I’ve been fundraising my butt off, trying to fundraise some funds to take me there and I’ve been selling these tiles,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how people would react. I put one on Instagram and within two hours it sold. Yeah, $200 for 8X8. I’m like a magician – I can go ‘abracadabra’ and money appears in my hand! Isn’t that real sexy?”
The Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami has just taken on Norwood’s fired decals of hair drawn onto vintage porcelain plates from the series Split Ends. Mindy Solomon called them inventive, timely and beautiful. They come equipped for display but they’re also food safe, should you choose to sip morning brew from your $400 tea mug, eat fruit salad from the $750 desert bowls or get serious with spaghetti on your $1100 dinner plate permanently fired with layers of hair decals.
“I have long a relationship with Sharon,” Solomon said. “She was my intern and very dedicated to the gallery and extremely hard working, really putting herself out there. I think it’s hard when you’re in school and producing work and doing residencies and participating in shows – to manage also selling your work. So I offered to assist her with that body of work.”
Each single hair is a tiny decal which are a tremendous amount of work, Solomon said, and each mark is collaged and marked into place on a surface of layered progression.
“I’m excited for her and I’m super proud of her,” she said. “Building a name and an identity is a good way to begin and she’s doing that.”
“My work is about perceived notions of difference,” Sharon writes on her website. “I am interested in investigating socially constructed identity that underscores the complex narratives that informs my understanding of the world.”
“Unlike most USF grads, she actually learned something while she was there,” art critic Luis Gottardi joked when I mentioned to him I’d be interviewing Norwood. “She’s committed at a level that very few people are. And like most artists, committable.”
I ask her if people have been comparing her to the silhouettes of Kara Walker and she says they have and she doesn’t mind it – she can see how they both use colonial language in their visuals, both looking at the history of the struggle for freedom for African-Americans. Kara’s steady use of black and white silhouettes do come to mind as you look at Norwood’s vast body of work using black lines shaped like growing, blowing, falling hair all over white backgrounds or over-growing all over people’s heads.
“Hair is so very packed and a fertile subject for investigation,” she said. “It is something that has social, cultural and political implications to everyone. How we wear our hair, permissions regarding hair, gender-associated hair, everything about our hair and our choices is entwined into our cultural heritage and personal identity.”
What have you been working on lately?
The work I’m doing is very site-specific installation – I called it vinyl decal drawings. The one that I’m thinking of in particular is in the Carnaghi Arts Building (at FSU). I transferred the drawings onto the walls. It’s an ornate type of landscape. How it translates – it breaks apart and becomes this curly line while some of it still has that hairlike quality. So, I’ve been having some pretty good feedback on it, based on the sale and level of commitment and the whole idea of it being in a public space. It speaks to the power of visibility; the politics of invisibility.
“The Politics of Invisibility.” That is so cool. That should be the title of your book!
What I’m speaking to, for those pieces with the curly hair, being on the walls of the school – I think for me it breaks up that social narrative about black bodies and faces and institutions, whether it’s getting into school or the segregation ruling about schools or just about black bodies in public spaces. I think it speaks to having kinky hair in the space. Less than 65 years ago it would have been completely unacceptable. That’s kind of empowering, making work that addresses that or speaks to that or gives me a certain amount of agency where I can be putting this thing in the space without permission.
You did a project with the Music Box from New Orleans. How did you find out about Music Box? My friend John works there!
I was invited to participate in that show and at the time I was working on a basket of things. I hadn’t quite resolved this piece and the Music Box came along. What I ended up putting in the show was a sink with the hair drawings all over it. If I wash my hair and blow-dry it, my sink is completely destroyed with hair. It made sense with the Music Box being about New Orleans and the history of what happened in New Orleans. It felt right. I called it Things Fall Apart.
Like the book.
Yes! Look at this, you know it! I remembered reading that in high school and I enjoyed it. That kind of says it without saying. The title should be leading but not so leading that they take away for the space to enter the work. Or for the viewer to be able to take the work apart. “Picture of a woman” and you look and it’s a picture of a woman. ‘Oh ok.’ I like a title that causes the viewer to sit with the work and reflect the work a little bit more.
It’s like how she draws all that hair, but wants us to remember it’s still a line – simple, malleable, glorious. In short, everything comes from the source.