vanessa german

(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1976 - )

vanessa german was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has lived in Los Angeles and Cincinnati before settling in Pittsburgh, PA. german is self-taught and works across sculpture, written poetry, photography, communal rituals, and immersive installation. german is also an accomplished spoken word poet and has studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory for the Performing Arts, the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, and the Los Angeles Theater Academy. Recent solo exhibitions include The Artist Channels 33 Intimate Technologies of Soul, Transformative Arts, Los Angeles, CA (2021); Reckoning: Grief and Light, The Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh, PA (2021); and Miracles and Glory Abound, Flint Institute of Art, Flint, MI (2019), which traveled to the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA, and the Bates College Art Museum, Lewiston, ME. german’s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including In These Truths, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (2022); The Art of Assemblage, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, FL (2021); Radical Love, Ford Foundation Gallery, New York, NY (2019); and A Pittsburgh Anthology, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA. german is represented by Kasmin Gallery, New York City.

The “root system and ingredients” of vanessa german’s practice are the communities and ecosystems she inhabits. german describes herself as a citizen artist, that is a citizen of the queer community, the Black community, of women-identifying folks, of Pittsburgh, and so on. Her residencies in these various modes of life play a crucial role in the development of a resilient body of work that is inspired by love and power.

For the past several years, german has lived in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. The area has undergone a series of rising and falling changes over many decades and is a central ingredient to the formation of her practice. Just east of downtown Pittsburgh, Homewood was once populated by many upper middle-class Black families during the mid-twentieth century. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, however, riots and looting there destroyed its central business community which has never fully recovered. The Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act also prompted many affluent Black families to abandon Homewood for other districts. As a result, the population declined, and poverty rose. Shortly after her family relocated to Pittsburgh in 2000, german moved to Homewood. Within the past decade, she’s attempted to fend off gentrification of the area by transforming her residence there and a once-foreclosed home next door into a community arts center. She calls it ArtHouse, and it provides studio spaces, a community garden, resources for children to create art, and a place for visiting artists to stay. By creating a safe haven for Black folks in a poverty-stricken area experiencing encroached gentrification, german takes her place in a longstanding lineage of Black women who have constructed what noted theorist bell hooks refers to as “homeplace,” a site and form of resistance “where all black people could strive to be subjects, not objects, where we could be affirmed in our minds and hearts despite poverty, hardship, and deprivation, where we could restore to ourselves the dignity denied us on the outside in the public world.”[1]

A second, essential ingredient to german’s artistic recipe is love. german credits Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings about love and its ability to bring about justice and reform as motivation for her overcoming and healing from a suicide attempt. “I believe in the power of love in the way that Beyoncé believes in the power of a good hair weave. If you wear it, you will be transformed,” says german.[2] “It doesn’t have to be just about romance,” she argues, “love can be a sort of active tool in my life if I choose it to be that way.”[3] german’s love for her communities—not just Homewood but the Black and queer communities, too—is a galvanizing force which she translates into tangible material used to create works of art that embody the anguish and joy of her and others’ experiences.

--Jared Ledesma, Senior Curator

[1] bell hooks, “Homeplace (a site of resistance),” https://files.libcom.org/files/hooks-reading-1.pdf; accessed May 27, 2022

[2] vanessa german, “Love Front Porch,” Tedx Pittsburgh State Prison, July 21, 2015; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMTqKQPd7Yk; accessed May 27, 2022

[3] vanessa german, “Art Bite: vanessa german on the Cultural Ecosystem of Community,” Nevada Museum of Art’s Debra and Dennis Scholl Distinguished Speaker Series, October 26, 2020; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZFO8j4dHz8; accessed May 27, 2022

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