Do Savannnah

‘Force of nature’ Vanessa German offers artist talk, workshop in Savannah


‘Force of nature’ Vanessa German offers artist talk, workshop in Savannah

21 Mar 2016


What: “State of the Art” lecture by Vanessa German

When: 6 p.m. March 31

Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.

Cost: Free for members and $12 for non-members



Vanessa German is one of the truly exceptional artists featured in the current exhibition on view at Telfair’s Jepson Center, “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.” The project by Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., was curated over a year of studio visits to nearly 1,000 different artists across the country.

German will be conducting a workshop with area youth and giving a one-of-a-kind artist talk at the end of the month that should surely not be missed.

Raised in Los Angeles, German now lives and works in Pittsburgh. She’s an inspiringly strong, fierce, proud, black, gay woman, who is also a sculptor, poet, performer, advocate and activist. She has an exceedingly generous and gregarious personality (the term “force of nature” gets thrown around a lot) and creates her art with great power and conviction. All of German’s work emanates straight from her soul and she’s certain that she comes from a long lineage of creators who, she says, “work within the clarity of the spirit and the clarity of the hand.”

The two representations of German’s work in “State of the Art” are what she refers to as “power figures,” evocative mixed media assemblages that have echoes of Central African nkondi statues used to ward off evil and America’s complicated history of racial imagery and “tar baby” iconography. They are not mere objects — they’re living, breathing entities. And though they can sometimes be seen as provocative, their primary role is protection.

German is very intentional in everything she does and with every piece she creates. Her work deals with themes of self-worth and the simple but profoundly important idea that every life has meaning. Her house in Homewood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood, has become a magnet for local kids and her front porch serves as a sort of creative safe space where kids can make beautiful and empowering pieces of art themselves.

“Our systems are wired so that when we have freedom of body and freedom of breath and freedom of mind and freedom of imagination, we’re healthier and our communities are healthier,” says German. “Science is also telling us beautiful things about the power of investing in creative time. It’s literally good for your body.”

While in Savannah, German will be working with local youths aged 6-12 in partnership with Loop It Up Savannah. They will each make their own small, “workshop scale” power figure.

“I love the opportunity to do this workshop, particularly because I think it’s a wonderful glimpse into the world of creativity and imagination. You have a smorgasbord of materials in front of you and you’re thinking purposefully, but also with great freedom ...

“Each young person gets to access that really fun place of imagination and curiosity ... It’s intense and it’s fun and we always end up having this amazing comradery between the people who do the workshop together. It’s great.”

At 6 p.m. March 31, German will give her unique brand of artist talk, which will incorporate a spoken word performance and a sort of conversational version of a lecture.

“The word ‘lecture’ is really strong and has pretty hard edges for what happens, because I talk about and will show images of the cycle of living that I have through art, which considers where I live, my neighborhood, the objects that I create, the purpose for those objects and how they’re all intentionally connected by love and by the idea that human beings are more connected to each other than disconnected, and more powerful in ways we don’t always affirm.”

She says she’ll also allow questions throughout the talk rather than waiting until the end.

“It’s something that’s more alive for me as the presenter to have substantial back and forth between the viewer and me, because I think the truth is that we bring so much wisdom into a space when our voices are shared together. I feel like we leave that space more enriched and with broader minds when we’ve heard the voices and heard the questions from people with so many different stories and so many different perspectives inside of them.”

German is known for her inspiring presentations. As one eyewitness noted, she nearly upstaged Bill Clinton at a recent event with her emotionally charged introduction.

“I hope people come,” she says with a laugh. “Sometimes people are excited about the idea of an artist talk, but then they don’t come ... I’m really looking forward to meeting the people in Savannah.”