Entwined Ritual Wrapping and Binding in Contemporary Southern Art

Kristin Meyers, She Boxes, 2019, Mixed media, Collection of the artist

ON VIEW MARCH 28, 2020 TO FEBRUARY 28, 2021

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Peter Rogers in Honor of Bradley Sumrall

Veronica Cho
Michael J. Deas
Holly & Geoffrey Snodgrass


“I follow my hands, and they often reveal the answers to the questions that I am asking myself while I explore the material I am working with.” – Sonya Yong James

This exhibition explores how wrapping and binding are used in the work of eleven contemporary artists from the American South. It also explores the motivations, inspirations, and meaning behind the acts of wrapping and binding objects through the varied perspectives of this diverse group.

The act of wrapping objects and binding things together is as ancient as mankind itself. Weaving is at least 12,000 years old (recent discoveries suggest possibly 27,000), and the world’s oldest sewing needle (made of bird bone possibly by Denisovans) dates back to approximately 50,000 years ago. While it is an ancient and very human act, perhaps the inspiration arose from observing nature. Spiders bind filaments together to form a web, and wrap their prey in silk. Vines wrap and cling for support and movement. Birds build nests and bagworms build homes through binding objects together. Each and every one of us begins life bound within the womb, one life entwined with another. Perhaps that is part of the primal urge to wrap objects: to protect them, hide them, contain them. Wrapping can be a preservative endeavor, like the mummy’s quest for immortality. It can be a violent act, like the coil of the snake or the chains of human bondage. It can be an act of solidarity and devotion, as with the hand-fasting rituals of marriage. Every wrapped package or bound bundle contains a secret – a hidden thing, the unknown – and activates the very human emotions of curiosity or fear.

From Native American sacred medicine bundles to the Jewish laying of tefillin, wrapping and binding have been used as a symbolic device by humans throughout history. Both the ritual act and the act of creating art are ways of putting concrete reality to abstract ideas. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of various cultures – Haitian Voudou, Appalachian broom-making, Calabrian silk production, Peruvian rope coiling, Congo Nkisi – the contemporary artists in this exhibition engage wrapping and binding as both symbolic aesthetic device, and often as a ritual practice within their work.

Each artist in this exhibition approaches the simple acts of wrapping and binding from a unique perspective. Some are involved in the haptic absorption of repetitive handwork – a sort of ritual meditation on texture and rhythm. Others are exploring the symbolic power of the physical act – weaving narratives through form, image and materials. This exhibition contains a feast of texture and a vast range of materials – clay, fabric, rope, egg tempera, driftwood, loofah, antler, bone, wire, coffee, ashes, teeth, yarn, wool, chalk and a plethora of found objects. Through wrapping, painting, weaving, coiling, drawing, or knotting, each artist binds their own unique and thoroughly contemporary vision to an ancient, universal and very human practice.

This exhibition is curated by Bradley Sumrall, Ogden Museum Curator of the Collection.


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