Tau Lewis

Healing via making, Tau Lewis stitches together memory, history and the Black imaginary.

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.”

  • To Begin Again, group show at ICA Boston, 2022
  • Yesterday We Said Tomorrow, group show at Prospect 5, New Orleans, 2021
  • Triumphant Alliance of the Ubiquitous Blossoms of Incarnate Souls, solo show at COOPER COLE, Toronto, 2020
  • Sparkle's Map Home, solo show at Oakville Galleries, 2020
  • Everything Is A Time Capsule, publication published by Magenta Foundation (National Gallery of Canada, Library and Archives Collection), 2017
Symphony by Tau Lewis
Symphony, Tau Lewis, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

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.

“Things hold memories and information — they carry stories with them”
Opus (The Ovule) by Tau Lewis
Opus (The Ovule), Tau Lewis, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

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.

The Coral Reef Preservation Society by Tau Lewis
The Coral Reef Preservation Society, Tau Lewis, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Dumah by Tau Lewis
Dumah, Tau Lewis, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

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.

All artworks and images courtesy of Tau Lewis.
Studio shoot by Jack Pearce.

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Tau Lewis Portrait