Since 2007, artist Vanessa German has lived in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, where crime, drugs, and gun violence continually wreak havoc on the historically African-American urban community. Gun shots can be heard day and night, and many residents have personal connections to the victims of violence. In response to her life experiences, German creates inspiring sculptures in the tradition of African “Nkisi” power figures, divine protective objects thickly encrusted with nails, beads, shells, and found objects that evoke suits of armor. Housing mystical forces to eradicate evil, German’s enigmatic contemporary variations of the ritualistic sculptures embody a performative, spiritual, and affirming function.
For MATRIX 174, German transforms the gallery into an underground site of a cavern excavation. Minimally illuminated by several strings of bare light bulbs, a powerful army of approximately 30 of the artist’s black figurative sculptures will be installed in military formation on an earthen floor. The presentation was inspired by one of the most remarkable archeological discoveries of our times―the massive configuration of an estimated 7,000 terra cotta warriors and horses buried near the 2,000-year-old tomb of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (died 210 B.C.) in northwest China in 1974. Like the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin, German’s female soldiers display remarkable individuality and perform specific protective and supportive roles within the community (or dynasty) through the rites of passage from birth, to death, and rebirth.
German’s soldiers confront the agents of racism, violence, and police brutality. In her signature prose, she describes them as “an army of healers. an army of weepers. an army of protectors. armed and dangerous upon the lie.” She defines their role in “a sustained accumulation of destruction to the vicious and debilitating compendium of hate, lies, and murder; the shape-shifting nature of the weapons aimed against my very flesh and soul. (i do not have to tell you that____black lives matter.)”
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website