Discussion and Demonstration | SOFT MATERIAL – Part One
Museum of the African Diaspora, NIAD Art Center, Creative Growth, and Elbow Room present
A two-part Discussion and Demonstration with artists and co-founder of SOFT MATERIAL
Part One features artists Elmeater Morton, Raven Harper and Shantae Robinson who will share their experiences of collaborating together through their different textile languages. Each artist will demonstrate their poetic way of gathering materials and sewing, Raven through beading, Elmeater through her thread work and Shantae through embroidery. The discussion will be moderated by co-founder Nan Collymore.
SOFT MATERIAL is a collaborative garment construction project, between artists who have an interest and connection with what one might call fashion and textiles, but what could also be seen as the corporeal, the body and performativity. Soft Material supports and connects artists living with disabilities whose studio programs have been severely interrupted by the pandemic. Soft Material’s mission is to reduce the isolation of artists with disabilities by giving them the space to express their creative lives in community with each other through the support of skilled teaching artists. They are interested in elevating the artistic knowledge held in disabled communities of textile arts and garment construction.
The project, in part funded by the Center for Craft and through generous material donations from the community, began a collaborative correspondence of a collective of six neuro-divergent artists who practice in three different progressive art centers, NIAD, Creative Growth and artists previously affiliated with PALS in Portland. With weekly supportive Zoom meetings offered by artists and Soft Material Co-founders, Nan Collymore and Celia Lesh, the six artists in the collective were brought into regular and meaningful creative connection.
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Elmeater Morton paints with a sense of confidence and grace. Her sure-footing as an abstract painter allows her to weave personal memories and concrete experiences into fluid and meaningful mark-making. Waves and caverns of color—often applied wet-on-wet—take on narrative meaning, as Elmeater points to a form within a painting and gives it a name; a complete creative gesture. Members of the Morton family are frequently subjects of her work, as she reminisces about family holidays, articles of clothing, loss of loved-ones, and ghosts. These attributes give her paintings an expanded sense of time and interconnectivity.
Her textile work is an elaborate, yet quiet demonstration of extreme thoughtfulness. Elmeater intricately gathers threads and scratches of fabric to bring a gestural language to her work. These tiny poems are deftly attached to each other through a web of thread or onto fabric she expertly selects.
Raven Harper loves to do African inspired art and sculpture. She likes the fashion from Africa and the graphic designs. She wants to make quilts inspired by African cultures. She thinks it’s good to make stuff from the old days. Because people don’t make those things anymore. She thinks it’s good to bring back old styles of art and craft.
Art is about remembering for Raven Harper. It comes to her mind that we should remember our ancestors. It’s about the things you have that you can be thankful for. She remembers Dr. King and Rosa Parks and the old ways and the way they showed us.
There is power in learning history. Celebrating Black hair is important to Raven and exploring it in her clay sculptures of Black people. Black cultural icons are important to her practice also, especially Aretha Franklin. Aretha inspired a lot of people and showed herself in a good way.
Shantae Robinson makes beautiful and complex shapes with her work. The spiral is a central conceit that appears repeadtedly, in ceramic form and through her drawings. Shantae’s understanding of color is formidable and she is unafraid to experiment with combining different types of material together.
Shantae brings a sculptural element into her clothing and textile work that echoes Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake.
Nan Collymore is often working by re-making or re-forming materiality into visual projects or palimpsests to re-frame a conversation on the intricacies of subjectivity. She co-founded Soft Material with Celia Lesh and her other recent projects are Dress I and II for small press L’habillement (of which she is the Founder), Editor of The Black Aesthetic Series III, she is Contributing Editor of The September Issues, and Contemporary & and a mother and inter-disciplinary artist. She works part time at NIAD Art Center where she teaches jewelry and fashion construction.
This program is co-presented with NIAD Art Center, Creative Growth, and Elbow Room