Vanessa German

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Vanessa German
Vanessa German (crop).jpg
Vanessa German on stage
Born1976 (1976)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Known forSculpture

Vanessa German (born 1976[1]) is an American sculptor, painter, writer, activist, performer, and poet based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Her sculpture often includes assembled statues of female figures with their faces or heads painted black, and a wide range of attached objects, including fabric, keys, found objects, and toy weapons.[2] German is an activist, addressing problems like gun violence and prostitution.[3]

Her work is held in numerous permanent collections, including the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; and has been reviewed by Sculpture[4] and discussed in The New York Times,[5] O, The Oprah Magazine,[6] and on NPR's All Things Considered.[7] Her art has been featured in a wide range of galleries, museums and traveling exhibits, including the 2012 "African American Art 1950–present" touring exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution.[8] She was a 2015 recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Grant.[9] She was the winner of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, a biannual $200,000 award from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.[10]

German uses her art to address hate in the world while also expressing hope for the future. Vanessa German’s at Mattress Factory

Early life[edit]

Vanessa German was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin[11] and raised in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles[12] and Loveland, Ohio[4] by her mother, Sandra Keat German (1949–2014), a fiber artist,[1] quilter and costume maker.[13] She is the third of five children.[14] She moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2000 and began to perform and exhibit her work locally.[15] She describes her work as heavily influenced by her childhood in Los Angeles, where her mother encouraged the children to make their own clothes, and she was also impacted by the AIDS epidemic and drive-by shootings.[16]

Artistic career[edit]

A self-taught artist, much of German's artwork is collage and sculpted assemblages.[15] German's sculptural work frequently includes female figures that she calls "power figures" and "tar babies".[17] She creates them by decorating and painting large dolls and figures, then sculpting outward by adding a wide range of materials including objects like cowrie shells, plastic guns, feathers, bottle caps, seashells, toys, and vintage products.[15] She often uses found and donated materials from her Homewood neighborhood.[1] She discovered that her work included elements similar to the central African tradition of Nkisi nkondi, guardian statues pierced with nails and other materials.[18]

Her materials lists for artworks are often poems in themselves. They may include both the physical (e.g. cloth, paint, keys) and non-tangible materials (e.g. "the names of all the dead boys that I know," "tears").[2] Recurring themes addressed in her work include food, birds, violence, injustice, poverty, and Black Madonna imagery.[19][20] In her artist statement for 2016's dontsaythatshitoutloud, she describes the impact of finding two men murdered outside her house within a four-month period.[21]

Her work includes the symbolic use of color throughout. Describing beads from one work, she said "If they’re red, they're holding rage and love simultaneously. If they’re white – they're holding ghosts – the presence of your ancestors ...and they're also holding forgiveness and peace."[22]

ARThouse and Love Front Porch[edit]

German also leads the ARThouse and Love Front Porch, a community art institution, in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.[6] She started the ARThouse when she needed to start creating artworks on her front porch because her basement ceiling was too low: her large sculptural pieces had to be taken apart to be removed from the basement. After she started working on the porch, ARTHouse was born.[23][1] Neighborhood children began gathering to watch her work. This expanded into a dedicated community art space, which moved twice before moving into its permanent location, a house purchased with donations and proceeds from her art sales,[6] dedicated in December 2015.[15] In 2012, Love Front Porch received a $4,000 grant from the Sankofa Fund of Southwest Pennsylvania, which highlights empowering grass-roots African-American community projects.[24]

German also runs the Tuesday Night Monologue Project at ARThouse, a weekly event where guest artists and members of the community can write and share works with each other.[25]

Homewood was described as "The Most Dangerous Neighborhood in America" by MSNBC journalist, Rachel Maddow.[26] German has said about Homewood, "...that doesn't happen every day. It doesn't happen every week. Most people aren't shooting each other. Most people are not running drugs. It's a very small percentage of the population who are engaging in really extreme activities."[23]


German's work is held in the following permanent collections:

Notable exhibitions[edit]


"Tar Baby Jane". Filmmaker Gregory Scott Williams, Jr., 2010.[15][39]

Selected reviews[edit]

"Vanessa German." Sculpture magazine. July/ August 2012.[4]

"Cut-and-Paste Culture: The New Collage". ARTnews. 12 December. 2013.[40]

"Exhibition Review: Unloaded." afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism. 22 May 2015.[41]

"i take my soul with me everywhere i go". The Georgia Review, 13 September 2016.[18]

"Review: “Africa Forecast” shows how convention inspires Black women’s spirit". ArtsATL, 11 November 2016.[42]

Notable appearances[edit]

  • "The City is Ours Today" (poem). Inauguration of Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto. January 2014.[15]
  • "Root" (performed and written spoken word opera) Martha's Vineyard Playhouse, 2011.[43]
  • Performance poem. Fashion Africana (2004), Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh Music Hall.[44]



  1. ^ a b c d Rao, Mallika (6 October 2014). "This Sculptor Is Using Trash To Inspire One Of Pittsburgh's Toughest Neighborhoods To Make Art". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Artist Vanessa German displays her love for Homewood in NYC". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  3. ^ "Exhibition: Vanessa German Bitter Root – MSU Billings | MSU Billings". Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Amy, Michael (July–August 2012). "New York: Vanessa German, Pavel Zoubok Gallery". Sculpture: 75.
  5. ^ Rosenberg, Karen (6 March 2014). "Booths Devoted to Women Multiply at the Art Show". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "A Sculptor Creates a Bright Spot in a Struggling Community". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Young Artists Find Home And Healing at Pittsburgh Art House". NPR. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  8. ^ a b Villarreal, Ignacio. "African American art since 1950 from The David C. Driskell Center on view at the Taft Museum". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Unveils 2015 Biennial Grant Awardees". Artforum. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  10. ^ "Artist Vanessa German Needed Money to Repair Her Steps in Pittsburgh. Then She Won $200,000 From the Crystal Bridges Museum". Artnet News. 18 December 2018.
  11. ^ Great Women artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 153. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  12. ^ "Vanessa German: Helping to Heal Traumatized Youth Through Art". Carnegie Museum of Art: Storyboard. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  13. ^ Fredrickson, Erika. "Roots and juju". Missoula News. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  14. ^ a b "American Visionary Art Museum – Our Visionaries: Vanessa German". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Lidji, Eric (18 May 2016). "Citizen Artist: Vanessa German". Pittsburgh Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  16. ^ Fredrickson, Erika. "Roots and juju". Missoula News. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  17. ^ a b Albritton, Ann (November 2015). "Sarasota, Florida: "Re-Purposed", The Ringling Museum". Sculpture: 72.
  18. ^ a b "i take my soul with me everywhere i go". The Georgia Review. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  19. ^ DUNNE, SUSAN. "Wadsworth Atheneum Exhibit Confronts Violence Against African-Americans". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  20. ^ Berger, David S. "Vanessa German's sculptures continue to impress in a new show". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  21. ^ O'Driscoll, Bill. "Vanessa German shows off powerful print-based work at AIR". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  22. ^ a b Record, MARGA LINCOLN Independent. "The transformative power of art and love: 'Vanessa German: Bitter Root' opening reception is today". Helena Independent Record. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  23. ^ a b Bullock, Maggie (17 April 2019). "The Future of Work: The 'Citizen Artist' Bringing Hope to Pittsburgh's Homewood". Shondaland.
  24. ^ "$4,000 grant to 'Love Front Porch'". New Pittsburgh Courier. Vol. 103, no. 38 (City ed.). 19–25 September 2012. p. B3.
  25. ^ Writer, Shahum Ajmal | Staff (5 April 2018). "Women hone craft at Art House in Homewood".
  26. ^ NewsPoliticsInfo (26 May 2011), Rachel Maddow Goes To America's Most Dangerous Neighborhood (Part 1/2), retrieved 5 March 2017
  27. ^ a b c d "Vanessa German "i am armed. i am an army."". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Works – Vanessa German – People – Heinz History Center". Retrieved 1 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation – Past Exhibitions". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  30. ^ "Vanessa German | Pittsburgh Biennial 2014". Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  31. ^ "Vanessa German: The Ordinary Sacred". New Pittsburgh Courier. Vol. 106, no. 6. 11–17 February 2015. p. B5. ISSN 1047-8051.
  32. ^ "German and Human". Hartford Magazine, Hartford Courant. June 2016. p. O25.
  33. ^ "Critic's Choice". Hartford Courant (Main ed.). 29 May 2016. p. G2.
  34. ^ "Exhibition Spotlight: Vanessa German at the Everson Museum of Art". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  35. ^ "State of The Art". Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  36. ^ "Mattress Factory: ActiveArchive". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  37. ^ "Vanessa German: Miracles and Glory Abound". Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  38. ^ "The Frick Pittsburgh Announces Partnership with Vanessa German" (PDF). Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  39. ^ German, Vanessa (1 January 2000), Tar Baby Jane, retrieved 4 March 2017
  40. ^ "Cut-and-Paste Culture: The New Collage | ARTnews". ARTnews. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  41. ^ "Exhibition Review Unloaded | Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  42. ^ "Vanessa German | ArtsATL". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  43. ^ "Root : Martha's Vineyard Playhouse". Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  44. ^ Norrell, Debbie (21 November 2004). "Fashion Africana!". New Pittsburgh Courier. Vol. 95, no. 93. p. B1.
  45. ^ "2017 Art Award Winners – American Academy of Arts and Letters". Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  46. ^ "Four recognized at Urban League's Ron Brown Gala". New Pittsburgh Courier. Vol. 105, no. 51 (City ed.). 17–23 December 2014. p. B8.
  47. ^ "Community supporters feted at leadership reception". New Pittsburgh Courier. Vol. 98, no. 10. 7–13 March 2007. p. C3. ISSN 1047-8051.

External links[edit]