Clark's Spider looks at first like a hat on display. Or, it could be a wig: tightly drawn black threads, which read as both textile and hair, produce a cross-like part; eight twisted braids spill down and over a cloth-cap mount. Either way, it is a special headpiece. Clark, a textile artist, is fascinated by West African domestic traditions that spring from women's crafts. She relates handmade objects that are sewn, stitched, woven, or crocheted to social and gender identity. These identities are cross-cultural in her work since, as we can see in Spider, she evokes both West African and African American experiences. A young black American might braid her hair into decorative and sculptural designs not unlike Spider.
Clark's textile piece is not meant to be functional; it is a work of art in its imaginative associations and multiple meanings. As such, it is magical, furthermore suggesting the ritual use to which West African textiles can be put. The eight braids are the eight legs of a spider, hence the name of the work. The merging of human and insect identities in a single object may suggest, as is accepted in many ancient societies, the continuum of nature and humanity. In another way, Spider is an emblem of black African pride. It is royal in shape and presentation, reminding us of a tribal crown.
Sonya Y.S. Clark, Spider, 1998, cloth, crochet thread, 4 x 8 x 8 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through Rudolph and Louise Langer Fund. 1999.15 © Sonya Y.S. Clark.
Sonya Y. S. Clark. Photograph courtesy of the artist.