Sonya Clark Unravels The Past

“How far forward have we moved in 150 years?"

That’s the question 2011 Knight Foundation Artist-in-Residence Sonya Clark asks when she talks about her performance piece “Unravelling," which is currently on view through July 17th in New Dominion—an exhibition of artists living and working in Richmond, Virginia—at Mixed Greens in New York City. The exhibition “explores the tension between past and present in Virginia today.”

Clark began to unravel the Confederate battle flag, thread by thread, in her studio on April 9, 2015—the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. She’ll continue to do so during the exhibition at Mixed Greens, and will invite those in attendance to join her in taking apart the polarizing symbol.

"The anger is justified, and then what?" admits Clark. "Anger is simply an emotion. I'm much more interested in what happens next. So, how do we move forward?”


Past and present, specifically the Civil War and Charlotte in 2011, were each explored during Clark’s residency and subsequent exhibition, Converge, at McColl Center.

“In a number of the works conceived during her [McColl Center] residency,” wrote Bill Haskins, artist and professor at Parsons in New York City, in the exhibition catalogue, “Clark draws upon a dynamic constellation of intersecting local, national, social, political, and historical threads.”

From Clark’s exhibition artist statement:

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, many of the works for this exhibit merge events of history through common objects. The timeline is not a rigid progression but stitched back on itself.

Penny Portrait, 2011, digital print, 42” x 67”

Penny Portrait depicts President Obama in coins minted in 2008, the year he was elected. Abraham Lincoln is given a new hairdo in Afro Abe II, one that became a statement about Black Power and freedom about 100 years after he was elected. 

Afro Abe II, 2011, $5 bill and embroidery, 4” x 6”

Penny Portrait and Afro Abe II use a common object, money, to merge the relationship between these two presidents: both Illinois statesmen plagued by economic crises.

Through these objects our histories are entwined.


Charlotte’s NPR news source WFAE published a story and interview with Sonya Clark about “Unravelling" on June 23, 2015. Listen to it here.