My current body of work is entitled “Prevails Unpoetic”, an anagram for visual perception, a concept from which all of my work derives. I create curved sculptures by placing hundreds of cuts into straight pieces of wood, allowing the wood to bend and curve, representing the myriad ways in which Black women are cut down by racism and sexism. I add copper detailing to enhance the form and/or balance of each piece. These sculptures reference the influence of bias and how the survival of such influence molds women into complex individuals. They feature minimal design, subverting traditional imagery of Black art. By broaching the concept of racism in an unexpected art form the work can have a critical impact perception and visual literacy. This work invites the viewer to explore their own perceptions.
The purpose of my work is to explore how visual perception affects the work that I create as a Black artist in a defunct, post-racial America. I use wood, forged metals and other materials as metaphor for the Black body and its formation as a result of racialized knowledge and microaggressions.
Our perceptions, completely subjective and idiosyncratic, do not simply shape the way we experience our own lives; they also color expectations, and therefore, our experiences with other people. Prevails Unpoetic explores the results of those experiences and addresses interactions between myself and other people while challenging the lenses through which those interactions are experienced.
It has been my experience that differing lenses translate to personal bias - particularly in the form of racism - and manifest in the form of microaggressions. Though the microaggressions I encounter may or may not be intentional by the offending party, I experience them nonetheless, based on the lens through which I navigate. They are, however naïve or innocent, still valid and I speak to them through the works that I create. As a person belonging to multiple marginalized groups - Black, female, queer, and others. - I find that my current work is a response to having been unjustly treated and/or placed under undue expectations. Though I have multiple minority statuses, I find that most expectations are directed toward my race and manifest in the form of racial microaggressions, manifesting in the form of implicit bias.
In my opinion, the term visual, in the field of academic visual arts, has been severely undervalued. Put simply, vision refers to the state of being able to see, or, to perceive with the eyes. Further, to perceive means to become conscious of, realize or interpret. Perception, however, is not as easily defined.
"Social variables include all those effects of past experience - interest, reward, punishment, expectation, and so forth - which are most likely different for people from different social backgrounds...Social variables have been shown to influence how subjects judge physical dimensions such as the size of coins or the colors of patches of paper that are briefly presented and then have to be judged from memory."
My artistic practice is to bring attention to the theory of Hochberg's research and to challenge negative learned perceptions via mass communication of Black culture and artists.
Perceptual blindness or inattentional blindness, refers to an individual’s psychological failure to recognize an unexpected event or stimulus that is in otherwise clear view. Many experiments and examples have been conducted, including The Gorilla Experiment by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons (Chabris and Simons) in which a viewer is asked to closely study the details of an event in a video. Upon reflection of the events in the video, it is revealed to the viewer that, while he or she was able to recount many of the details, they failed to recognize a gorilla that walked through the scene.
My conjecture and the basis of my work is that these failures to recognize stimulus and events that are in clear view also translate to personal bias. The job I have given myself, as artist, is to be transgressive and to create radical work. My work is multilayered and though often angry, I present it in a diplomatic and thought-provoking manner, however. A Black woman, working a white-dominated world, I am a minority, however, through my work, I reject any expectations to be an angry Black woman who shows anger and/or is confrontational. For people who might view my culture through a particular lens, it can be difficult to see and understand this dichotomy.
The combination of racial microaggressions, visual perception and perceptual blindness can result in discourse between the artist and viewer. The challenge with this body of work is to bridge the gap between society's learned visual language and the differing languages with which we all communicate.
My work is as much about the process of making and manipulating materials as it is about the content. My studio practice includes my handling materials, turning them in my hands and in a sense, feeling their energy. My senses flow with the energy of the material. I try to expand my creative mind in the beginning stages of work with those techniques or forms that I am familiar with. In letting my hands manipulate the material, I am better able to create new and interesting challenges for myself and as a result, new and challenging art.
The majority of my work is about my daily feelings and my lifelong experiences - and my goal is to give life to those moments. I focus on moments to which I believe many people can relate, but may also struggle with articulation. Instead of telling the audience what to feel, instead of defining any one affect in or for someone, I try to recreate and replicate those experiences in artistic form. Much of my work is filled with metaphor and coded artistic language which can be deciphered on several levels. Those who are willing to expend a little more thought about the work are rewarded with a deeper understanding of the work and of myself.
I have often been asked of my work "what does this mean?" to which I respond "what does it mean for you?" My art is a language and a form of communication used to create a connection between maker and viewers.
- Autumn T. Thomas