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Leah Clemons
Leah Clemons

Sat, Jul 27

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Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

Leah Clemons

Join us at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center on Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 3pm for an artist talk by Leah Clemons as she tell us more about her process and work in this current exhibition "Say A Prayer For What Has Been" on display in our Leedy Underground Gallery II.

Time & Location

Jul 27, 2024, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, MO 64108, USA

About the event

Leah Clemons Say A Prayer For What Has Been June 7 - July 26, 2024 The Leedy Underground II

Say A Prayer For What Has Been examines the objects and rituals used and practiced by women in the black church.  Women’s bodies within these spaces are used as tools to uphold  patriarchy, while flattening women’s autonomy. Although the black church provides a sacred place for freedom of expression and refuge from an at large racist American society, it can also be a suppressive environment. Expressions such as clothing are often the only ways black women, regardless of age, can exercise their autonomy. Through clothing and accessories, black women in the church can adhere to patriarchal expectations while safely letting pieces of themselves slip through.

The works in this show explore how artist Leah Clemons navigates her own relationship with religious deconstruction. Through the various sculptures presented as anthropological objects, she tells the story of her own upbringing within the church, as well as  her ongoing relationship with her maternal grandmother. The process of deconstruction, which is a rejection of the beliefs one is brought up within, yields an untethered experience. This newly found assertion of independence can feel both daunting and freeing at the same time. Engaging with her grandmother’s experiences in the Southern Baptist Church, Clemons explores oppression as it exists both inside institutions that are considered safe and within the context of a society that continues to oppress.

Artist Statement

Leah Clemons achieved her BFA in Fiber at the Kansas City Art Institute with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies. Her work comprises multi-media installations that utilize processes such as surface design, beadwork, sewing, and papermaking. With these materials, Clemons creates anthropological objects that are referential to her Christian upbringing. Raised in an African American, Southern Baptist community, her work pulls from stories and experiences from the women of her childhood church and family. Her objects are representational artifacts of her past. They are recreations of items she associates with the women she grew up around, such as jackets, hats and jewelry, and with herself. Throughout her work, her maternal grandmother, Gloria, reoccurs. Gloria’s presence is a shorthand motif that represents the ways black women carve their autonomy while they exist in an oppressive institution. Inspired by Gloria’s eccentric style and strong-willed personality, Clemons’ examines her own disintegrating relationship between them and the women she knew as a child. These objects discuss distance and disconnection making them only an artifact of the memories shared.

Clemons analyzes the ways black women, within the church structure, are politicized through their clothing. Clothing is often the only way black Christian women can safely express themselves. Clothing is also used to divide women into degrees of moral hierarchy. Growing up, women follow a strict dress code in the sanctuary. No pants, mid length skirts, stockings, and purses that match your shoes. Older women are used as tools to set an example for younger women within the congregation. The adherence to patriarchal ideals of femininity force women to play into rigid expressions of it to administer the status quo.

Materiality is used as a vehicle to analyze her personal relationships with women she is now disconnected from, while she questions her own relationship to the religion. After moving from her church community, the artist herself began a journey of self discovery and deconstruction. To re-examine everything you have been taught, to then reconsolidate into new ways of thought is a daunting, exciting, and vulnerable experience. The artist wants the audience to examine their own relationships with others within an institution that hails over their life. Allow yourself to rethink the ways clothing, material, or your environment enmeshes you to others and to a system. Then ask yourself, where do you agree and misalign from them? The artist wants her work to remind the audience to constantly reconsider their placement within larger societal structures. How do you contend between your autonomy and your community?

Bio

Leah Clemons is a candidate for BFA in Fiber with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies from the Kansas City Art Institute. Originally from Housto, Texas, she resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She was raised in a tightly knit African American Southern, Baptist Christian community. She attended a small church called Mount Corinth where Leah observed intimate relationships between the women within the organization including her grandmother, Gloria Jean Skief, who also attended.

Clemons attended the Kinder High School of Performing and Visual Arts and received a YoungArts National Merit award in Visual Arts in 2020. Since then, she was a recipient of the Barbara Kuhlman Scholarship and has recently participated in Family Ties, a group show curated by KCAI BSU undergraduate students.

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