In one of Pittsburgh’s roughest neighborhoods, a colorfully decorated house stands as a testament to the power of art to transform individual lives and entire communities.
It’s simply called the Art House. It’s a place where kids from around the neighborhood bring their anger and joy and walk out with beautiful things in their hands and hearts.
The creator of the Art House is sculptor, poet, performer, activist and educator Vanessa German. And she believes, quite simply, that art, love and healing are the same thing.
“The center of this cycle of love and where I live and the work… is art,” she says. “I’m thinking about art and love as the driving force in my life and that which keeps me alive.”
German recently brought her inspiring message to Savannah. She spoke as part of Telfair Museums’ exhibit “State of the Art,” now at the Jepson Center through September 4th.
The exhibit takes a snapshot of contemporary American art. And one of its most powerful forces is the artist whose voice will ring through you for days after hearing this podcast.
In her Savannah lecture, German talks about the time when she attempted suicide. When she began to make art, however, a great weight lifted off her shoulders. And she survived.
“It was like I could have conversations with myself and I could attend to that which was broken inside of me,” she says. “And at the end of that six months, I had these figures.”
German’s “power figures” are shown in the Jepson Center exhibit. They feature black figures decorated with objects found in her neighborhood, the broken one in Pittsburgh.
She explains how her own personal transformation – from self-hate to self-love – found an audience in kids from around the block. They started hanging around her and creating.
“I experience great love when I’m working,” she says. “And so what happened is that they replicated that message. But really all it is is that love always makes more of itself.”
German imbues her figures with beauty and magic. They serve to reject the common narratives surrounding violence in communities of color – what she calls “the shrug.”
“There is no extra organ inside black folks that allows them to absorb the grief and the trauma of oppression,” she exclaims. “It does not exist! It’s horrible!”
The Art House shines as a glimmer of hope and a place of refuge. While a bit of it is with us, I hope you get a chance to see it. And please take German’s words here with you.
“There’s so much healing that needs to be done,” she says. “That is the work of the future, healing the earth and healing the connections between us as human beings.”
“State of the Art” features the work of 40 artists, German being just one of them. The Crystal Bridges Museum curated the exhibit after traveling 100,000 miles cross-country.
For more information on it, please visit this link.