7 June 2010 to 10 July 2010
198 Contemporary Arts & Learning
A Voice to Break Through the Silence
“When I be makin things, I be makin my self.
I use all those l’le things I see around me.
Things that got no meanin, things peoples don respect.
I jest put ‘em together, I don use my mind I jest sense ‘em”
Cheryl Lane’s work revolves around an urgent need for expression. Lane describes the importance of stories told in her family of everyday life that were lessons in the politics of life in America for a person of colour. The language used in the home was different to that used in public. ‘Home speakin’ was based on the Southern American Language AAVE (African American Vernacular English) a Creole or hybrid language consisting of West African languages and southern English. Lane describes this form of Black English to be loud boisterous, boastful and heartfelt and relies on attitude to get a point across. It is also dark and mournful and important to the perception and creation of her world. I would also add this language is coloured with myth and folklore, religious and spiritual belief.
In his book the Blues People, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) describes a time when the African slave becomes and African American. He claims that it was only when the African slave realized that he was not returning to Africa, did he/she begin to learn the masters language and quickly adapt that language to create a new form appropriate to their new world experience thus creating a new language and new forms of creative expression.
“How I speak gives insight into how I create.”
Growing up at a time of immense change in American society for people of colour and for women must have had a profound impact on the young Lane as culture and politics are also central themes in the work in particular the politics of identity. Her political expression seems to reflect the Womanist ideals of Alice Walker who adopted the phrase the Personal is Political as a means to describe her practice of writing. Walkers need to give voice to women through her prose is something I also see in Lane’s works. I say women because although Lane is from and African American background and this is apparent in her work, she does not see this need for expression as being exclusive. Lane like Walker is very much aware that her identity is one of hybrid cultures so to adhere to one historic cultural reference point to Lane seems contrived as she identifies with many often contradictory ideas, represented as a fusion of cultures colliding in one individual.
The myth of Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses has become the central allegory in much of Lane’s work. Philomela was raped by her brother-in-law; King Terus. When Philomela declares she will tell every one of his misdeeds the king brutally punishes her by cutting out her tongue and imprisoning her in a tower, rendering her void and speechless. Her silence creates a need for new language. The new language becomes her art, she stitches tapestry’s depicting the story of her misfortune. Critically Lane connects this to Julia Kristeva’s theory from The Revolution of Poetic Language, where Kristeva sought to demonstrate the function of the physical development of language, the acquisition of language becoming synonymous with subjectivity. The “self” established in language. The participation in the social is the ability to follow ‘regulations’ that are inherent in language, however language is unstable, it cannot fully suppress unconscious drives that exist in the make up of the subject therefore the unconscious affects language through the process of seepage.
You can sense this seepage in viewing Lane’s work. Images, merge with text. Use of materials to create layers of meaning materials from the domestic environment, unconventional materials, often found and reused materials merged together to make some strange and wonderful constructions. There is a constant repetition of letters words or phrases, or the name Philomela, Philomela, Philomela. Utterances, urges to speak to find a voice within the silence to find a means of expression. Magazine images are embellished and redefined by Lane’s mark making. Women are painted or drawn without mouths or eyes or they are constructed without heads or arms, essential physical qualities for intimate human expression. Lane’s work is has an intense draw to the viewer who is intrigued by a sense of beauty that is dark and melancholic yet romantic, sensual, and extremely poignant.
Cheryl Rich was born in Germaintown, Philadelphia USA on the 1st Oct 1949. She lived in New York City from 83-90 and then London from 1990. Cheryl’s creative expression began with fashion. She worked in fashion retail in all three cities including Comme Des Garcons in NY and Donna Karan in London and also creating her own collections that she sold in Portobello Market. Moving on from Fashion to finding a more personal means of expression, Cheryl completed a BA Fine Art degree at the University of East London in 2002 and her MA at City and Guilds, London in 2006, receiving an award from the arts and humanities research council to study and a distinction in her written thesis for the MA. Cheryl Lane sadly passed away on 11th January 2010. Her work is in private collections in the USA, UK and Greece.
Barby Asante, Associate Curator 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning