Sonya Clark

“Many of my family members taught me the value of a well-told story and so it is that I value the stories held in objects.”

American artist Sonya Clark draws on her Trinidadian-Jamaican heritage to investigate questions of race in contemporary American culture. Working in a range of materials, from textiles to human hair, Clark pays homage to the crafts and traditions of her forebears. As she says in her artist statement, “I investigate simple objects as cultural interfaces. Through them I navigate accord and discord. I am instinctively drawn to things that connect to my personal narrative as a point of a departure: a comb, a piece of cloth, or a strand of hair. I wonder how each comes to have meaning collectively. What is the history of the object? How does it function? Why is it made of a certain material? How did its form evolve? These questions and their answers direct the structure, scale, and material choices in my work.”

Clark was born in Washington, DC to a psychiatrist from Trinidad and a nurse from Jamaica. She gained an appreciation for craft and the value of the handmade primarily from her maternal grandmother who was a professional tailor. Many of Clark’s family members taught her the value of a well-told story and so it is that she values the stories held in objects.

Clark holds a MFA (Cranbrook Academy of Art), a BFA (Art Institute of Chicago), and a BA in psychology (Amherst College) and a high school diploma from the Sidwell Friends School in DC. She had the privilege of learning the craft of thinking through making from many makers throughout my travels. My work has been exhibited in over 250 museums and galleries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, and throughout the USA. Clark has been able to pursue her studio practice because of generous honors and opportunities such as a Pollock-Krasner Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Residency in Italy, a Red Gate Residency in China, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship, a Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, an Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Award, a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Italy, and most recently as a United States Artist Fellow.

Currently, Clark chairs the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. The department has been ranked by US News and World Reports as #4 in Fiber, #5 in Glass, #10 in Metals and #12 in Clay. Overall, VCUarts is ranked nationally as the #1 public university in the arts. Formerly, she was a Baldwin-Bascom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.