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Patrice Renee Washington: Tendril

Feb 16, 2024 – Jun 9, 2024

Tendril is a solo exhibition by Patrice Renee Washington. Working primarily in ceramics, Washington investigates structures of race, class, and gender and considers how identity can be manipulated and shaped to achieve different ends. Though diverse in scale (from monumental to miniature) and in iconography (from power to peril), the works in this exhibition share a common concern: to reveal how opposing meanings can coalesce into singular cultural symbols.

Washington’s freestanding vessels pay tribute to historical Central African nkisi sculptures—hollowed figures filled with medicinal herbs and sacred substances to “empower” them to protect people and communities. Then, crossing time and space, Washington examines a different sort of cultural signifier of power in her delftware-inspired tile paintings, which rework the white European delft tradition to center the experience of Black subjects and examine the construction and negation of Black identity.

In Tendril, symbols of strength can be symbols of vulnerability at the same time. Such is the case, for Washington, with Black women’s hair—whose curling ringlets are one of the references of the exhibition’s title, along with a plant’s slender, climbing spirals. Inlaid in heavily glazed and polished surfaces, Washington’s cylindrical forms illustrate braiding styles such as cornrows, braids, locks, weaves, Bantu knots, and crowns.

Then, finally, there’s the multilayered symbol of the watermelon—a central image in this exhibition, crucial to Washington’s investment in reclaiming historical narratives related to Black life in the United States, particularly in the American South. In her work, the sliced watermelon and its seed stand as signs of perseverance and achievement as well as of the racist associations made between the fruit and African American farmers.

In Tendril, Washington helps us see how certain identity-defining energies, affects, meanings, and forms, persisting through histories and across continents, converge in the complex cultural symbols that she works in clay.

Tendril is curated by ICA Curator Amber Esseiva.

The exhibition’s presentation at the ICA at VCU is made possible by generous support from
The Monument Group
Mrs. True G. Harrigan and Mr. John W. Collier III
Margo Ann Crutchfield and Kevin Concannon
Ms. Suzanne D. Hall and Mr. Joseph G. Willis

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