Sonya Clark

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Sonya Clark
Born 1967
Washington, D.C.
Nationality African American, of Caribbean heritage
Alma mater MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art; BFA, Art Institute of Chicago; BA, psychology from Amherst College and received an honorary doctorate in 2015; Sidwell Friends School
Known for Fiber art
Movement Influenced by Yoruba art; known for works featuring hair and combs
Awards Anonymous Was A Woman Award, United States Artists Fellowship, Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Award, and others

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 was influenced by the craftspeople in her family, including a grandmother who worked as a tailor, and a grandfather who was a furniture maker.[3]

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.[4]


Clark holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and in 2010 was honored with their first Distinguished Mid-Career Alumni Award.[5] 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.[6] She graduated from the Sidwell Friends School in 1985.

Professional academic career[edit]

Since 2006, Clark has been chair of the Craft/Material Studies Department [7] in the highly acclaimed School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University [8] 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,[9] where she received tenure with distinction and an H.I. Romnes award.[10] Previously, she was Baldwin-Bascom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[11]

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,[12] Delaware Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Memphis Brooks Museum.[13] Her work has been favorably reviewed in journals such as Art in America,[14] The New York Times, Sculpture,[15] Surface Design Journal, The Los Angeles Times,[16] Fiber Arts, and New American Paintings.[17]

Clark has received several awards including an Anonymous Was a Woman Award,[18] a United States Artists Fellowship,[19][20] Pollock-Krasner Award,[21] a Rockefeller Foundation Residency[22] in Italy, an Art Matters Grant,[23] Red Gate Residency[24] in China, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship, a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Award,[25] a Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship,[26] a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship[27] in Italy, an 1858 Award for Contemporary Southern Art from the Gibbes Museum,[28] the 2014 ArtPrize a Juried Grand Prize co-winner and recipient of the Juried award for Best Two-Dimensional work,[29] and a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.[30]

Hair Craft Project[edit]

The project combines

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."[31]

“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.”[32]

Exhibition History[edit]

Sonya Clark: Loose Strands, Tight Knots, Walters Art Museum, June 28–Sept. 2, 2008[33]

Loving After Lifetimes of All This, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, January 30 - May 23, 2015[34]

Oaths and Epithets: Works by Sonya Clark, Contemporary Craft, April 12 - August 19, 2017 [35]

Published works[edit]

  • Haystack Monograph Series #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 2017-04-01. 
  2. ^ a b Sims, Lowery Stokes (2009). "Sonya Clark: The Currency of Craft". Sept/Oct. 
  3. ^ Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (2011). Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists (1st ed.). Baltimore, Md: Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. ISBN 9780615436142. 
  4. ^ "Sonya Clark FORM FOLLOWS FUSION". Retrieved 14 July 2015.  External link in |website= (help)
  5. ^ "Distinguished Mid-Career Alumni Award". 
  6. ^ "Sonya Clark '89". Amherst Magazine, Amherst College (Fall). 2010. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  7. ^ "VCUarts Craft / Material Studies". 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  8. ^ "VCUarts Homepage". Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  9. ^ "Sonya Clark". Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  10. ^ "H.I. Romnes award". 
  11. ^ "Sonya Clark – The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  12. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art". 
  13. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art". 
  14. ^ Weaver, A.M. (2012-01-30). "Sonya Clark". Art in America - Reviews. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  15. ^ "Reviews - Indianapolis". 21 (10). December 2002. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  16. ^ Ollman, Leah (2013-07-05). "Review: Physical, metaphorical fuse in work of Sonya Clark at CAFAM". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  17. ^ "New American Paintings". 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "VCU USA fellowship". 
  20. ^ "United States Artist Fellowship". 
  21. ^ "Pollock-Krasner Award". 
  22. ^ "Rockefeller Foundation Residency". 
  23. ^ "Art Matters Grant". 
  24. ^ "Red Gate Residency". 
  25. ^ "Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship". 
  26. ^ "Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship". 
  27. ^ "Civitella Ranieri Fellowship". 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) | Smithsonian Fellowships and Internships". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  31. ^ Clark, Sonya (2015). The Hair Craft Project: Sonya Clark. Richmond, VA: Sonya Clark. pp. ix. ISBN 978-0-692-47410-5. 
  32. ^ "Cultivated Hair :: IRAAA". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  33. ^ "Contemporary Artist Sonya Clark Explores Notions of Beauty in Summer Exhibition at The Walters". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  34. ^ "Loving After Lifetimes of All This – The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design". Retrieved 2017-03-03. 
  35. ^ Craft, Contemporary. "Oaths and Epithets: Works by Sonya Clark on Contemporary Craft". Contemporary Craft. Retrieved 2017-06-06. 

External links[edit]