Alicia Henry

Witnessing


The Power Plant presents Alicia Henry’s first solo exhibition in Canada.

GUEST CURATOR: DAINA AUGAITIS

For the last two decades, Alicia Henry has been exploring unconventional approaches to portraiture, using the face to represent something that is hidden, revealed and performed. Originally from Illinois, Henry has lived for the past twenty years in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is an artist and professor of art.

Henry creates two-dimensional figures and group compositions that are commanding in their grace and expressiveness. Selecting her media carefully, she works with felt, canvas and other textiles, as well as leather and paperboard, all of which absorb drawn and stitched gestures that register a spectrum of contexts and emotions. Notions of gender and family are significant in her works, as are physical layers that suggest multiple and unfixed identities. Tender renditions of a mother with child appear, as do groupings of twenty or more females that signify formations of like-minded “families” within communities.

In this, her first Canadian exhibition, Henry’s compelling compositions are drawn from a multitude of references: the artist’s own memories, her collection of West African masks and events on the street or on television, to name but a few. Imbued with her perspective as an African American woman, the figures assert themselves as timeless witnesses reflecting a variety of personal and social histories.

In a recent conversation, Henry explained that she does not view her work as political, but nonetheless acknowledges that “at this time in the United States, the brown body has become politicized.” In her installations, composed primarily of dark-toned figures, a lingering melancholy evokes racial traumas suffered by innumerable groups and individuals, today and over the centuries. But simultaneously—through their direct gaze and erect composure—Henry’s multigenerational survivors exude a powerful strength and confidence. They stand in anticipation of an egalitarian future—a utopian goal that underpins much of Henry’s work.

Alicia Henry (born 1966, Illinois) lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions at institutions, including the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville (2016); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2012); the Nashville International Airport (2002); the Cheekwood Museum, Nashville (2000); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City (1997); and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1996). She has received numerous awards such as the Joan Mitchel Foundation award, the Ford Foundation Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship and, most recently, the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art. A native of Illinois, Henry received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Yale University at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Henry is currently a professor of art at Fisk University in Nashville, one of the oldest black universities in the United States.


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