My Generation: Let's talk about art

This is a biweekly series about art and artists in the region. Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts serves the community through arts education, exhibitions and artist resources.
Female Power: Artist Vanessa German

Vanessa German has been an artist for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a fiber artist, she grew up with five siblings in Los Angeles.

"We were not consumers of toys or outside entertainment," she says. "We wrote our own books, made our own plays. We had an understanding of what our hands and imaginations could do together."

Ms. German is a multi-disciplinary artist: sculptor, photographer, painter, actress, poet. She is also well known in Pittsburgh for her spoken-word performances, which often extol the African-American female experience. Her newest installation of sculptural figures, which continue this theme, will be featured at The Andy Warhol Museum this fall, as part of the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial.

The sculptures for this show were inspired by a catalog she found at a junk store. It was called, "Everything You Need For Your Minstrel Show." Though considered offensive now, minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment after the Civil War. White actors wore black make-up on their faces to lampoon African-American culture, which in that day was a community of newly freed slaves.

"I've created a melding of Victorian puppet theater, a traveling salesman's 3-D showcase, spun through history, my memory and imagination," she explains. Three human-size female figures are made of plaster, wood, glue, tar and found objects: hair, shells, old jewelry. They each represent aspects of female power, including references to the monthly cycle.

Using a clever play on words, Ms. German has titled her show, "Minstrel Blood: The Greatest Show on Earth! Everything You Need Fo Yo Menstrual Show."

"The piece speaks historically to the role of African-American women and about owning the power of survival and transcendence," she says. But, of course, that universal message speaks to all girls and women.

Although Ms. German will not be performing, her sculptures will. Each piece spins to music that viewers select. The installation opens on Sept. 17.

-- By Anna Venishnick for PF/PCA

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