Allana Clarke West Indies, b. 1987

Overview

Allana Clarke is a Trinidadian-American artist whose multidisciplinary studio practice is rooted in concepts crucial to contemporary discourse around interpersonal and intercultural empathy, such as curiosity, a will to heal, and an insistence upon freedom. Fluidly moving through video, performance, sculpture, and text, her research-based practice contends with ideas of Blackness, the binding nature of bodily signification, and the possibility to create non-totalizing identifying structures.

 

“I need to feel human again,” Clarke says. “I need to orient myself towards futurity; towards a future where Black bodies can be articulated in a way they’ve never been before. My practice is the process of that.”

 

Many of Clarke's projects are specifically rooted in the products and rituals of self care she learned to utilize as a child. In one recent series, Clarke created text-based wall works out of cocoa butter, a product with a long and fraught colonial history tied to slavery and child labor. One of the works read, “Meh muddah teach me to hate blackness in myself and others.” According to Clarke, the quote references Caribbean vernacular, spelled the way it would be pronounced.

 

Clarke’s latest body of work expresses struggle and ritualistic transformation through sculptures made from hair bonding glue, a liquid latex commonly used to adhere hair extensions onto a person’s scalp. Clarke refers to her first interactions with hair bonding glue as a child as “rituals indoctrinating me into a world that is anti-Black.” Clarke begins her sculptural process by pouring hundreds, sometimes thousands, of small bottles of the glue onto a mesh surface. The bonding glue cures from the top, remaining supple underneath for days or weeks. During that time, Clarke manipulates the material by scraping, pulling, twisting, and pushing into it with her entire body, literally wrestling with the partially dried substance, creating a visual history of her personal physical and emotional struggles with a material designed to encourage her to unnaturally alter her appearance for social advantages. The performative process manifests in a sculptural relic of the artist grappling with her complicated relationship with her medium.

 

By utilizing these types of materials themselves as sculptural mediums, Clarke mobilizes layers of embedded meaning that lead viewers into conversations about whence the products originate, what kind of impact they have on labor practices and ecological justice, and what their consumption and use imply about the self-esteem and social status of individual consumers and the culture at large.

 

Clarke earned her BFA in photography from New Jersey City University in 2011 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2014. She has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Vermont Studio Center, Lighthouse Works, and Yaddo, and has received several grants, including the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, Franklin Furnace Fund, and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Her work has been screened and performed at Gibney Dance in New York, Invisible-Exports in New York, New School’s Glass Box Theater in New York, FRAC in Nantes, France, and SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin, and was featured in the Bauhaus Centennial edition Bauhaus Now: Is Modernity an Attitude. She recently completed a 2020-21 NXTHVN fellowship and is an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Clarke’s work was recently included in the group exhibition Realms of Refuge at Kavi Gupta | Elizabeth St. A solo project with the gallery is forthcoming in 2023.

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