Healing via making, Tau Lewis stitches together memory, history and the Black imaginary.
In 2020 Lewis was named amongst the best booths at Frieze London by Artsy, and in 2021 her large-scale sculpture Symphony found a permanent home in the National Gallery of Canada.
The time taken to complete each work - often sewn patch by patch from found and re-purposed fabrics - means that Lewis often travels with them between shows and fairs in Canada, Jamaica, England and the US, enriching them with new memories and materials from each location.
Lewis’ work is abundantly detailed - tactile, transformative and terrestrial. She works predominantly with fabric and leather to create “soft portraits” using a broad range of techniques from sewing to carving. The labour-intensive processes act as a symbolic mode of healing. Materials like shells, hair, rock and plaster are recycled into fantastical figures and shrines, while objects foraged from numerous cities are constructed into what the artist calls “portraits of the landscape.” Exploring the erasure of Blackness in both art history and Canadian culture, Lewis illuminates the geographical and social histories that each found object has witnessed. Her work sits within a lineage of Black cultural production including mixed-media artists like Lonnie Holley and Betye Saar, where the recycling of found materials is made generative and radical.
Lewis connects the past to speculative Afro-futures — using sculpture to stretch beyond the structures and experiences of today. Opus (The Ovule) (2020) is an installation centred on a giant, bulbous face with a protruding tongue, hand-dyed in a warm-toned palette of pinks, oranges and yellows and surrounded by cascading fabric blossoms. The title evokes vitality and growth. While the work has a cosmic, almost alien feel, it exudes the grandeur of ancient, ancestral spirituality. Through such juxtapositions, Lewis unearths the infinite potentials of love, sex and life.
For Lewis, the medium of textile represents the body. Through careful handling of found fabrics and personal artefacts she unlocks the memories contained within them. Influenced by artists like the quilters of Gee’s Bend, works like The Coral Reef Preservation Society (2019) and Passing The Green Specimoon (2020) employ the process of hand-quilting as both a literal and symbolic transfer of energy from body to material. The works speak to the resilient practices of the Black Atlantic’s artistic production, a site Lewis is inspired by and exists within. By upcycling “not just materials but also circumstances, sound and words,” Lewis establishes a beguiling mode of figuration that exists beyond time and space.
“I feel that the action of finding, collecting and repurposing things is symbolic of the same resourcefulness that is integral to Black existence.” – Tau Lewis