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Shreds of MemoryTau Lewis

February 1, 2023

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In the quiet of her Brooklyn studio, artist Tau Lewis and her team bring an uncommon attentiveness and care to the found fabrics that make up her figurative sculptures. “I have a very deep interior private life,” she tells us, “I’ve been that way since I was a child. I really struggled with communicating and getting my ideas out. Sculpture has been really important to that interior self.” Ornate assemblages of salvaged textiles, the works currently in progress are inspired by ceremonial Yoruba masks that are traditionally used in the process of communicating with a spirit or ancestor. This documentary short, shot on 16-millimeter film, evocatively captures the creation of a suite of large-scale masks that radiate their own personalities and desires.

Patching together the many fabrics collected in her studio, Lewis embraces the histories embedded in the materials she works with.  “A lot of black creation is an upcycling” she says, “regardless of a lack thereof, regardless of an access to. Taking things as they are and letting them shine”. For the artist, the time spent in the studio touching and handling the material is integral to the work, an act of departure into her own interior world. She treats her sculptures as beings in their own right, unrecognized ancestors whose allegorical meaning or talismanic power must be teased out through a hands-on process of recognition. “I’ve heard you,” she offers to the work, “and these are the symbols I’ve made in response to you, and you are being seen.”

More information and credits


New York Close Up Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Producer: Crystal Kayiza. Editor: Lorena Alvarado, Crystal Kayiza. Cinematography: Pierce Robinson. Assistant Camera: Colin Morris III. Sound: Benjamin Eckersley. Associate Producer: Andrea Chung. Assistant Curator: Jurrell Lewis. Color Correction: Natacha Ikoli. Sound Design & Mix: Collin Blendell. Design & Graphics: Chips. Music: frey_s. Artwork & Archival Media Courtesy: Bed Stuy Art Residency, Tau Lewis. Thanks: 52 Walker, CPT Rental Inc., Cate Higgins, Zoe Hochman, Avia Hurley, Lily Pell, Erin Pinover, Isabel Powis, Afiya Yearwood. © Art21, Inc. 2023. All rights reserved.

New York Close Up is made possible with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Tau Lewis

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.

“There’s a sense of calm when I’m here alone with the objects as well, the way that they kind of preside over the studio. I feel held by them.”

Tau Lewis