Tau Lewis was born in 1993 in Toronto, Canada, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. A self-taught artist, Lewis has crafted her education through communion with peers, like the queer Caribbean collective RAGGA NYC, and pilgrimages to meet the artists and institutions that inspire her, such as Atlanta-based artist Lonnie Holley and the Gee’s Bend Quilting Association. Once a student of journalism, the artist channels stories through material constructions. Using labor-intensive techniques like hand-sewing, applique, carving, and assemblage, she transforms recycled materials into large-scale figurative works. She likens the practice of upcycling to diasporic methods of art making and survival, situating her work within the deep history, vibrant present, and oracular future of Black cultural production.
Lewis is committed to using recycled materials for the memories they hold and the past lives they allude to. She collects used materials from New York City, where her studio is based, her hometown of Toronto, and her family home in Negril, Jamaica. Scraps from previous sculptures are continually incorporated into new works so that her sculptures share a kind of familial lineage. Inhabiting the gallery space as enigmatic storytellers, Lewis’s figures are often portraits of contemporaries, imagined ancestors, or time-travelers who come to offer us insight into the present. The forms they take are often otherworldly, as in Harmony (2019), where the artist created a large, seated figure with two conjoined faces using colorfully stitched black leather, sea shells, stones, and wire.
In her two-dimensional work, Lewis continues to reference and expand on the human body, creating new symbologies that seem to possess a kind of mythological wisdom. Three large tapestries made of layered leather, suede, and other found fabrics, Knot of Pacification (2021), Tree of God (2021), and God is King (2021), are populated by infants whose stomachs are conjoined, often carrying more infants in their brains. Large eyes preside over them, and animals such as moths and snakes surround them. Leather, a material she is frequently drawn to, speaks of the bodily – made from skin, it collects scents and impressions from both its past life and from the process of being refashioned. Through her attentive and often intimate working process, she strives to give the work what it asks for, trusting that it, in turn, will speak for itself.
“The exciting thing about fabric, when it’s not brand new, it has character, it’s mysterious. I love the imperfection, and I love wondering about their secret lives.”