21st Century JuJu:
New magic: gadgets for yo’ soul, you-decide technology, the un-digitized spirit, you betta’ recognize, ancient and brand new simultaneously.

Sculpture, performance & installation work by visual & performance artist Vanessa German.

juju (ˈdʒuːdʒuː) — n
1. an object superstitiously revered by certain West African peoples and used as a charm or fetish
2. the power associated with a juju
3. a taboo effected by a juju
4. any process in which a mystery is exploited to confuse people

Main Entry: juju
Definition:1) a charm or amulet with magical powers; also written ju-ju 2) the magical power of such an object
Etymology: French joujou ‘plaything’

New work by visual and performance artist Vanessa German. Inspired by hand-me down hands, treasure picked up on the street corner, midnight prostitutes on the stroll, Jordan Miles, post traumatic stress disorder and playing music too loud. Inspired by, dr. edda fields black, dianne b. swan, yona Harvey, taking matters into your own hands and the ricochet of the transcontinental slave trade. Inspired by, the western coast of Africa, the east coast of the Carolinas, the east end of Pittsburgh and random gun violence. Inspired by the difference between racism and prejudice, treyvon martin, dr. martin luther king jr and the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Inspired by, speaking in tongues, tongues speaking in hands, and instantaneously healing by the sight of a thing.

This exhibition is made possible with a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Initiative

by Graham Shearing

The function of the artist is to invent, not to chronicle: Oscar Wilde
(Letter to the Editor of the St James’s Gazette, 26 June 1890)

Wilde was wrong, of course, as he is often. The artist may be society’s best chronicler, even if he or she may be no historian or scientific analyst; even if the artist is the purest aesthete in the tower of whitest ivory, as when the poet, Pound, witnesses the ‘old bitch, gone in the teeth’*.

In Vanessa German’s multi-disciplinary work we find a sifting of evidence, an evaluation of material things, and a critique of the society she finds spread out before her: she is a witness to what she finds, and declares it loudly and passionately, and, for a shy woman, also fearlessly. She intuitively transforms her findings, her evidences, into her work. It does not come of nothing; it is not that class of genius. The word invention in its Latin root, means ‘to find or come upon’ (as in the Invention of the Cross), and significantly for German, it is the prime canon of rhetoric. Look at Tar Baby Jane & Doowop: Everything Useful for Your Household, 2010 in the David Driskell Collection. It brings the African American experience forward as treasure trove (thesaurio inventio), powerfully, drippingly.

Doo Wop
Fig 1. Vanessa L. German, Tar Baby Jane & Doowop: Everything Useful for Your Household, 2010. Mixed media. Acquisition from the David C. Driskell Center’s C. Sylvia and Eddie Brown Arts Acquisition Fund. Copyright 2011 Vanessa L. German

Sculpture and Assemblage
The first body of her work to be considered is material and physical, in the main sculptures and assemblages, of the kind that seldom existed in the Western tradition before modernism, but which are commonplace in other and older cultures. These older cultures are connected viscerally with religions and near-magical practices where good and evil tread the same path. A ‘doll’ can bring death or life, its (doll)maker a shaman or priest/priestess. It is worth considering how these presences could be seen as formative elements in German’s work.