U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery offers two new exhibits by Detroit artists


Sydney G. James and Sarah Rose Sharp

Top: Sydney G. James poses next to her new mural in U-M's Modern Languages Building; next to that image is a portrait from her Watch Me Work exhibition.
Bottom: Sarah Rose Sharp, Target, 2020, fabric, handkerchief, t-shirt salvage, beads, sequins, etc. 10” x 7.5” (unframed, hung from 29” arrow).

Two new exhibits organized by U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery don't share much in common other than Sydney G. James and Sarah Rose Sharp are both artists from Detroit. James is a painter and a muralist; Sharp makes fiber-based works.

But when I read James' artist statement, I realized that even though she and Sharp don't share similarities artistically, they both have the need to work through this pandemic, to continue to create in the face of daily challenges that are determined to knock us on our asses. We're all facing this, artist or not. As James writes:

Through utter shock, through grief, through disgust, through fear, through ANGER, through heartbreak...through it all, We work. Through this chaos, we work. For our families, our communities, our sanctuaries, we work. Through exhaustion, we work. Through a pandemic, we are working. We work to fill voids. In our minds, we work to fill the “Void” but we often don’t recognize the “voids” that that very work creates. The chaos surrounds us, yet we push through the heavy weight of all the woes of the hamster wheel of days.

James created her paintings for her Watch Me Work exhibit as part of an artist residency with the Humanities Gallery, and she also just finished a mural, Sarah the Whatevershechoosestobe-(h)er, on the first floor of the Modern Languages Building. 

Watch Me Work runs through December 18, and much of it is viewable online, but viewers can also see the works in person through the windows of the Institute for the Humanities on both the Washington and Thayer sides of the building. The gallery will also show a documentary on James' The Girl with the D Earring, a nine-story mural on Detroit's Chroma building. There's a virtual opening reception on November 12 at 6 pm that's viewable on the Institute for Humanities' YouTube page.

Results or Roses: New and Assorted Works collects works by Sharp made during her Institute for Humanities residency along with some pieces made elsewhere. She takes salvaged bit of fiber, beads, sequins, etc. and assembles them into portraits, collages, and abstract pieces that are jumping with texture and contrast. 

Amanda Krugliak, arts curator at the Institute for the Humanities, writes:

Sharp’s point of view is idiosyncratic in the best sense, unconcerned with outside voices. We are left with the impression that she deeply loves and acknowledges every bead, swatch, stitch, and pattern fiercely, intolerant of any imposed hierarchy. She has a clear personal relationship with the materials she uses and the artworks she makes. The viewer develops a surprisingly personal relationship with the works as well. A pillow-like self-portrait expresses the edginess of self-scrutiny through a giant electrifying eye in perpetual vigil. Conversely, an endearing portrait of her dog embodies pillowy unconditional kindness and acceptance we soon covet. The scale of the work forges intimacy and connection. She invites us inside and to stay awhile. Her swatches read like a travelogue, charting the artist’s journey toward home.

Sharp's exhibition is entirely virtual, so there is no end date listed for it. We'll have a Pulp review soon, but in the meantime, you can check it out here.

Get to work, fill those voids.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.