Recent Acquisition: Protest Shield #2 by Sharif Bey
SYRACUSE, NY (February 10, 2021): Sharif Bey (b. 1974) has called Syracuse home since he accepted a position as a professor in Syracuse University’s Art Education department. During that time, his roots in Central New York have grown deep as he raised his family and became a valuable part of Syracuse’s social fabric. Bey is unique among ceramic artists for the many facets of his art practice. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Bey began learning pottery as a teenager at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, an educational nonprofit founded by legendary African-American potter Bill Strickland. At an early age, Bey took workshops from a who’s who of brilliant artists, including Karen Karnes, Jun Kaneko, and Warren MacKenzie. Through the crucible of Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Bey fully committed himself to ceramics, and received his BFA from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, followed by an MFA from University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Bey then followed his curiosity to Penn State University, where he combined his love of ceramics with his passion for scholarship. At Penn State, he began a deep investigation into the teachings of influential African-American educators like Augusta Savage.
In 2007, he received his PhD in Art Education, which led him to his professorship at Syracuse University. As with his scholarship, Bey pursued a unique path with his studio work. Raising a family is notoriously difficult for artists, so Bey adapted by making his studio as mobile as possible. He set up ad-hoc studios in his office and home where he could multitask—making pinch pots or ceramic beads that could be fired in his home fireplace. Through his dedication and tenacity, he built relationships with a network of galleries, collectors, and museums while challenging himself through experimental work in materials like glass at short-term art residencies. A prestigious Pollock-Krasner award enabled Bey to renovate his basement into a fully functional studio, which enabled him to increase the size and sustained attention to his work. Before the murder of George Floyd and the Covid-19 pandemic rocked 2020, the Syracuse University campus was roiled by protests about systemic racism and representation.
The crystallization of the Black Lives Matter movement propelled Bey to add overt protest imagery to a series of ceramic shields featuring faces derived from African sculptures surrounded by embedded nails that referenced nkisi nkondi figures from the Congo Basin whose power is activated through hammering nails into them. Protest Shield #2 brings together elements from Bey’s previous works, including Black portraiture and body adornment, but is updated to reference the Black Lives Matter movement through a row of raised fists that form the figure’s crown. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Bey’s national profile has risen exponentially.
In October of 2021, Bey will open a solo exhibition at his hometown museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which will be followed by a 2022 solo exhibition at the Everson. More of Bey’s recent work, including additional Protest Shields, can be viewed at New York’s Albertz Benda gallery in an exhibition entitled Revelations in Power. When asked about the exhibition’s title, Bey replied,
“What I’m really interested in, above all, is cultivating power, How does power manifest? When I’m using pattern, or I’m using repetition, or I’m using the undulation of positive and negative space, or I’m using color – in every instance, the intention is to produce something that is in some way awe-striking.”
Protest Shield #2 will make its debut at the Everson in the exhibition Who What When Where, which opens on April 10, 2021. —Garth Johnson, Paul Phillips and Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics Image caption: Sharif Bey, Protest Shield #2, 2020, earthenware, nails, and mixed media, 20 x 20 x 12 inches, Museum purchase, Deaccession Fund, 2020.14. Photo credit: Jamie Young.