Sonya Clark

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Sonia Clark
Born1967 (age 51–52)
Washington, DC
EducationMFA, BFA
Alma materCranbrook Academy of Art, Art Institute of Chicago
Notable work
Hair Craft Project, Flag Project
StyleFibre Arts

Sonya Clark (born 1967, Washington, D.C.) is an American artist of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Clark is a fiber artist known for using a variety of materials including human hair and combs to address race, culture, class, and history.[1] Her beaded headdress assemblages and braided wig series of the late 1990s, which received critical acclaim, evoked African traditions of personal adornment and moved these common forms into the realm of personal and political expression.[2] Although African art and her Caribbean background are important influences, Clark also builds on practices of assemblage and accumulation used by artists such as Betye Saar and David Hammons.[2]


Clark's father who was a psychiatrist from Trinidad of Yoruba descent while her mother was a nurse from Jamaica.[3] Clark was influenced by the craftspeople in her family, including a grandmother who worked as a tailor, and a grandfather who was a furniture maker.[4]

Clark's personal connection to the comb began like that of nearly every young girl, squirming on a chair while an adult armed with a comb and good intentions attempted to bring order to the disorder on her head.[5]


Clark holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and in 2011 was honored with their first Distinguished Mid-Career Alumni Award.[6] She has a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied under the artist Nick Cave (performance artist) and a BA in psychology from Amherst College in 1989, where she also received an honorary doctorate in 2015.[7] She graduated from the Sidwell Friends School in 1985.

Professional academic career[edit]

Clark is a professor of Art in the department of Art and the History of Art at Amherst College. Between 2006 and 2017, she was chair of the Craft/Material Studies Department[8] and was honored as a Distinguished Research Fellow. In 2016, she was awarded a university-wide Distinguished Scholars Award[3] at the highly acclaimed School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University[9] in Richmond, VA. The department is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top in the nation. Prior to her appointment at VCU, she was Baldwin-Bascom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,[10] where she received tenure with distinction and an H.I. Romnes award.[11] Previously, she was Baldwin-Bascom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[12]

Art career[edit]

Clark's work has been exhibited in over 300 museums and galleries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and throughout the Americas. Her work is in the collection of many museums including the Indianapolis Museum of Art,[13] Delaware Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Memphis Brooks Museum.[14] Her work has been favorably reviewed in journals such as Art in America,[15] The New York Times, Sculpture,[16] Surface Design Journal, The Los Angeles Times,[17] Fiber Arts, New American Paintings,[18] Philadelphia Inquirer, Italian Vogue, Hyperallergic, Mother Jones, and Huffington Post.[3]

Sonya Clark was an artist in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in 2011.[19] She has received several awards including an Anonymous Was a Woman Award,[20] a United States Artists Fellowship,[21][22] Pollock-Krasner Award,[23] a Rockefeller Foundation Residency[24] in Italy, an Art Matters Grant,[25] Red Gate Residency[26] in China, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship, a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship,[27] a Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship,[28] a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship[29] in Italy, an 1858 Award for Contemporary Southern Art from the Gibbes Museum,[30] the 2014 ArtPrize a Juried Grand Prize co-winner and recipient of the Juried award for Best Two-Dimensional work,[31] and a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.[32]

Her work can be found in many books including Wrapped in Pride, Mami Wata, Hand + Made,[33] The Global Africa Project, Second Lives, Manufractured,[34] Pricked, African American Art and Artists, Choosing Craft, and Master: bead-weaving[35]

Hair Craft Project[edit]

According to Clark, "Hairdressers are my heroes. The poetry and politics of Black hair care specialists are central to my work as an artist and educator. Rooted in a rich legacy, their hands embody an ability to map a head with a comb and manipulate the fiber we grow into a complex form. These artists have mastered a craft impossible for me to take for granted."[36] She claims, "hair is power," and, "as carrier of DNA, hair holds the essence of identity."[37]

“I grew up braiding my hair and my sister's hair, so in one sense, like many black women, I had been preparing to be a textile artist for a very long time."[38]

Flag Project[edit]

Since 2009, Clark has created serial projects surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag.[39] She has performed Unraveling in June 2015 at the now-defunct Mixed Greens gallery in New York City and then at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, in October 2016.[40] Her more resent presentation of the exhibit in Louisville Kentucky "was the first performance under the current presidential administration and since the country has found itself embroiled in debate over the presence and ramifications of Confederate imagery in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer."[40] "The act is now a part of a larger movement through which state and local governments are dismantling these objects out of a sense of civic duty."[40] During the exhibition, members of the audience are encouraged to join Clark one at a time in the unraveling of a confederate flag while she explains her vision and demonstrates how to pull the strands of the flag apart. According to Goodman, "Clark stands side-by-side by participants, shoulder-to-shoulder as they pull each strand of the flag and confront the reality it represents".[40] In April 2018, Clark returned to her alma mater, Amherst College, to perform "Unravelling" at the Mead Art Museum.[41]

In 2017, Clark created a hand woven linen cloth reproduction of the white dish towel used by a Confederate soldier to surrender at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This piece is known as "Monumental Cloth (sutured)". It is the artist's hope that this flag of truce becomes as well known as the Confederate Battle Flag. Both "Unravelling" and "Monumental Cloth (sutured)" were on display at the Mead Art Museum from April 5, 2018 to July 1, 2018.[42]

She has also created the Kente Flag Project. This work is a mixture of elements from African and Western/American culture.[39] She weaves Kente patterns into the design for strength and endurance, advancement and achievement, and prosperity.[39]

Exhibition history[edit]

  • 2019: Monumental Cloth: the flag we should know, [1], March 29 – August 4, 2019[43]
  • 2017: Oaths and Epithets: Works by Sonya Clark, Contemporary Craft, April 12 – August 19, 2017[44]
  • 2015: Loving After Lifetimes of All This, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, January 30 – May 23, 2015[45]
  • 2008: Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots, Walters Art Museum, June 28 – September 2, 2008[46]

Published works[edit]

  • Haystack Monograph Series No. 17, 2004: Craft and Design. "Hand-me-downs: Our Stories held in Objects, Materials and Processes.”
  • Surface Design, Fall 2003. “In Review: Nick Sargent.”
  • Surface Design, Summer 2000. “Beneath Pattern: Investigating Symmetry.”
  • Ornament, Spring 1997. “Sculptural Headdresses.”
  • The Hair Craft Project: Sonya Clark, eds. Melissa Anderson, Sonya Clark, Meg Roberts and Leigh Suggs, Exhibition Catalogue, 2015


  1. ^, The Washington Times. "VCU department chair themes art around hair". The Washington Times. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Sims, Lowery Stokes (2009). "Sonya Clark: The Currency of Craft". Sept/Oct.
  3. ^ a b c O'Neill, development-Mark Luetke | design-Lauren. "Sonya Clark". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  4. ^ Reginald F. Lewis (2011). Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists (1st ed.). Baltimore, Md: Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. ISBN 9780615436142.
  5. ^ "Sonya Clark FORM FOLLOWS FUSION". Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  6. ^ "Distinguished Mid-Career Alumni Award".
  7. ^ "Sonya Clark '89". Amherst Magazine, Amherst College (Fall). 2010. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  8. ^ "VCUarts Craft / Material Studies". October 4, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  9. ^ "VCUarts Homepage". Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  10. ^ "Sonya Clark". Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2014.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  11. ^ "H.I. Romnes award".
  12. ^ "Sonya Clark – The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art". Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  13. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art".
  14. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art".
  15. ^ Weaver, A.M. (January 30, 2012). "Sonya Clark". Art in America – Reviews. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  16. ^ "Reviews – Indianapolis". 21 (10). December 2002. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  17. ^ Ollman, Leah (July 5, 2013). "Review: Physical, metaphorical fuse in work of Sonya Clark at CAFAM". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  18. ^ "New American Paintings".
  19. ^ Unraveling: An Artist's Take On The Confederate Flag WFAE charlotte, June 22, 2015
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "VCU USA fellowship".
  22. ^ "United States Artist Fellowship".
  23. ^ "Pollock-Krasner Award".
  24. ^ "Rockefeller Foundation Residency".
  25. ^ "Art Matters Grant".
  26. ^ "Red Gate Residency".
  27. ^ "Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship".
  28. ^ "Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship".
  29. ^ "Civitella Ranieri Fellowship". Archived from the original on April 14, 2013.
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) | Smithsonian Fellowships and Internships". Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  33. ^ "Hand + Made The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2010 Catalog 9781933619262". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  34. ^ Holt, Steven Skov; Skov, Mara Holt (October 1, 2008). Manufractured: The Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects (1st ed.). San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 9780811865098.
  35. ^ O'Neill, development-Mark Luetke | design-Lauren. "Sonya Clark". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  36. ^ Clark, Sonya (2015). The Hair Craft Project: Sonya Clark. Richmond, VA: Sonya Clark. pp. ix. ISBN 978-0-692-47410-5.
  37. ^ O'Neill, development-Mark Luetke | design-Lauren. "Sonya Clark". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  38. ^ "Cultivated Hair :: IRAAA". Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  39. ^ a b c O'Neill, development-Mark Luetke | design-Lauren. "Sonya Clark". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  40. ^ a b c d "Unraveling the Complicated Confederate Legacy, One Strand at a Time". Hyperallergic. October 22, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  41. ^ Flynn, Anne-Gerard (April 3, 2018). "Confederate flag to be unraveled as part of Amherst performance art". Mass Live. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  42. ^ Rogol, Rachel. "Unraveling with Sonya Clark '89". Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  43. ^ {{Cite web|url=}}
  44. ^ Craft, Contemporary. "Oaths and Epithets: Works by Sonya Clark on Contemporary Craft". Contemporary Craft. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  45. ^ "Loving After Lifetimes of All This – The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design". Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  46. ^ "Contemporary Artist Sonya Clark Explores Notions of Beauty in Summer Exhibition at The Walters". Retrieved March 4, 2016.

External links[edit]