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Alicia Henry comes Home to Giertz Gallery

Alicia Henry is an artist with an international reputation for multi-media constructions of wood, fabric, paper and pigment that explore themes of isolation and the individual within community. A solo exhibition of her work titled Home: Works by Alicia Henry will run from Monday, February 13th to Tuesday, March 28th at Parkland’s Giertz Gallery. An artist’s reception will take place on February 16th from 5-7 p.m. with a gallery talk by Henry at 6. I got comments from Giertz director Lisa Costello and did some research on the artist to find out more. 

Henry lives and works as a professor of art at Fisk University in Nashville, where she is represented by the Zeitgeist gallery (a simultaneous solo exhibition of Henry’s work, The Walk, is at Zeitgeist from January 2 – February 27). A Parkland alum, Henry went on to earn her BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at the Yale University School of Art. Among her awards, grants, and residencies are a Ford Foundation fellowship and a Guggenheim fellowship. She has featured in countless exhibitions since her first in 1991, and her work is in eleven permanent collections across the U.S. Through expert stalking, I found this 2011 blog post by Nashville photographer Matt Tucker which shows her living in a charming house with three adorable dogs (though I am not sure if this is still the case). She keeps a characteristically low profile, but it’s possible to garner some information about her work from the internet.

Henry uses materials ranging from cotton, linen, yarn, and thread, to wood and leather, creating expansive, mural-like displays of abstracted human figures and faces seemingly suspended in space. Her figures are reminiscent of collaged paper dolls because of their flatness, and the facial forms often resemble tribal masks with impassive expressions. Henry lived in Ghana on the coast of West Africa for two years as a volunteer in the Peace Corps program, where she experienced communal living in contrast with isolation from the world she had known. Henry’s brief artist’s statement for Home reads, “Themes of isolation and interaction are recurring in my work. I am interested in the complexities surrounding relationships as well as societal differences and how these concepts shape and influence behavior.”

She arranges her people in figurative groups, evoking a complex web of relationships. According to Costello, “The shapes are installations on the wall and the individual pieces interact with one another to create a dialogue.” She has been called an “anti-portraitist,” because rather than focusing on unique features or expressive posture to offer insight into a subject’s psychological truth, her figures depict the face as a shield to protect vulnerable aspects of the self. Nevertheless, each figure is imbued with a unique persona lurking below the surface. Her installations typically turn the gallery into a peaceful, contemplative environment, though the figures themselves can have an eery quality. As Costello writes, “the work is sparingly installed and that gives the work a psychological space.”

Coinciding with Parkland College’s 50th anniversary, the work in this exhibition was made specifically for the show. “It will be the first time that it is being seen so we are pretty excited about that,” says Costello. While very much in keeping with her past work, Home also seems like it could depart from past exhibitions in a couple of ways. It explores the theme of loss, including work that explores how cultural, gender, racial, and social differences affect both individual and group responses to loss. And according to Costello, the exhibit includes pieces of nature and depictions of birds, flowers, and circular forms, rather than just human figures. “There is an opportunity for the viewer to make their own assumptions about her artwork,” writes Costello. “It will be interesting to hear her speak.” Costello will also be giving tours to Parkland students in various classes like Sociology and LAS.

Home: Works by Alicia Henry is a long-awaited event for the Giertz gallery and a unique opportunity to see new work from a major artist. Again, Home will run in the gallery from February 13th through March 28th, with an artist’s reception and featuring a 6pm gallery talk and music by the Parkland Guitar Ensemble on Thursday, February 16th. The exhibition, lecture, and reception are free and open to the public. Find out more here.

All images provided by Lisa Costello of Parkland College. 

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