Joyce C. Scott’s Beaded Sculptures Confront Racist Tropes

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In the 1970s, when the artist Joyce J. Scott was starting out, she crafted one-of-a-kind garments—glamorous and earthy looks made of materials including fur, snakeskin, and safety pins. She also plied her wild style in works of jewelry and sculpture that took on abstract and figurative forms, many of them ornamented by her signature beadwork. Her “Mammy/Nanny” sculpture series from the 1980s and ’90s includes Mammie Wada (1981), a doll-size figure of a Black woman seemingly bound, and made from an otherworldly assemblage of materials including crab claws, brass buttons, and synthetic hair. Many works play on racist tropes: Man Eating Watermelon (1986) is a bead-and-thread rendering of a Black figure writhing in an effort to escape entrapment in the freighted fruit. Another beaded figure, Buddha Gives Basketball to the Ghetto (1991), adds spirituality to the mix with the enlightened teacher holding a deflated ball and encircled by a ladder that seems to ascend to another realm. Time and again, Scott’s colorful creations stare down histories of racism, classism, and sexism with steely eyes and an impish grin. She takes a pointed and playful approach to bracing subject matter, the small-mindedness and absurdity of which she exposes as abhorrent and just plain dumb.

Scott’s fluid and free-spirited work—which also includes forays into comedy, music, theater, and performance of other kinds—is on full view in “Walk a Mile in My Dr...


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Joyce C. Scott’s Beaded Sculptures Confront Racist Tropes