Changing tradition

Maria Fazal, Copy Editor

On Jan. 29, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland will be unveiling an exhibition by Joyce J. Scott, a sculptor widely known as the “Queen of Beadwork.” A Baltimore native, Scott still calls the city her home, and her art derives some of its core elements of inspiration from her identity as an urban African American woman.

Perhaps another pertinent component of Scott’s work is its strongly traditional roots. Scott began her art career through collaboration with her mother, Elizabeth Talford, who is a fiber artist. Much of Talford’s work was concerned with familial social struggles. From her mother, Scott learned the importance of storytelling to family history and memories.

In fact, Scott’s diverse African American, Native American and Scottish family boasts three generations of storytellers: quilters, basket makers and wood, and metal and clay workers. Much of Scott’s work also addresses hot topics, such as political and social issues concerned with gender, race and class struggle.

“It’s important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and then carry something home—even it it’s subliminal—that might make a change in them,” said Scott.

Although much of Scott’s work is rooted in tradition, she manages to take a completely different angle with longstanding techniques. Beadwork is certainly not a new craft, but what Scott manages to convey through it certainly is.

“Over the last four decades, Scott has honed her craft and delivered striking visual narratives through masterful technical skill, while demonstrating an ongoing interest in collaborating with craftspeople across the globe,” said New York City’s Museum of Art and Design Nanette L. Laitman Director Glenn Adamson.

Several of Scott’s pieces possibly take some inspiration from this global influence, if that assumption can be made by appearance alone. There’s something distinctly tribal about some of her sculptures, adorned with weathered fabrics, vibrant beading and exaggerated, almost ghastly features. These are the sorts of works that wouldn’t seem out of place in an enlightened shaman’s hut.

An example of this type of work is a sculpture titled “Confused,” which contains three persons morphed together in an uncomfortable pose. Each of the three heads is portrayed in a different style. While one is rendered in a way that almost resembles a shrunken head, another head is elongated in a way similar to Easter Island’s Moai figures. The final head borders on caricature in a manner not too different from Norman Rockwell’s. Overall, it’s beautiful in a way that transcends our traditional views of the word.

The meaning behind pieces such as this is not exactly explicit. However, this only seems to add to Scott’s bold presence in the art world. These puzzling mysteries are also not lost on the artist.

“I know I’ve got an itch,” said Scott. “I guess I just want to keep making work that confounds me. I want to be confused, ignited, knocked down by my own work.”

Along with exhibition curator Patterson Sims, Scott will be present opening night of the new exhibition, “Truths and Visions,” to speak on her work, career and life.