Jamele Wright Sr. showcases relationship between Africa and the South in 'Project Wall West'

Installation view of Jamele Wright Sr.'s commissioned work ReBorn #4.02 at the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art. (Mike Jensen)

Multidisciplinary artist Jamele Wright Sr. creates works that showcase the spiritual relationship between Africa and the American South. His installations incorporate found objects, dutch wax cloth and Georgia red clay. Wright’s work is featured in the exhibition “Project Wall West,” on view at Kennesaw State’s Zuckerman Museum of Art through July 30. The artist joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the works he’s presenting at “Project Wall West” and the stories behind their unusual materials.

Interview highlights:

On “trying to create something so ugly, it’s beautiful:”

“I use that phrase because oftentimes, when we see something, we believe that we could just take a picture of it and move on, right? And I believe that we as Black people, I believe that we, as artisans, as artists, are creating something that is more than just an Instagram experience — a quick shot, and you turn the page,” said Wright. “Now, with photography, I don’t know if people even go back and look at their photographs. You just take a picture, and you keep walking. So when I say that I’m trying to make something so ugly that it’s beautiful, what I’m really trying to do is create something that’s so enormous in spirit, in visual language that you have to sit there, and you have to take it in, and then see its beauty.”

On the use of Georgia red clay in Wright’s artwork:

“I figured out a secret of how to make it into a paint,” Wright said. “It’s one of the final layers. I went to grad school at 45 years old, going on 46, and I took a huge bucket of red clay up there with me. So I’m up in New York with a bucket of Georgia dirt, and they’ve never seen anything like this before. Like, ‘Why is it red?’”

He continued, “When I think about the big Pangaea, the Pangaea of Earth, it being all one place … when you separate it, the same land that’s here in Georgia is the exact same land that you find in Ghana and Nigeria. Because they have that red clay as well. So I use it as this symbol for it being like this landbridge, this way of connecting back to this original country … If all of us come from Africa, I’m reconnecting us back to our origin.”

Integrating dutch wax cloth and family sewing skills:

“I learned how to sew in grad school. My grandmother used to sew quilts. Both my grandmothers sewed quilts, and my mother would always have a sewing machine, and when I was younger, I just always was fascinated by that machine. And then, when I got to grad school, I wanted to start sewing. At first, I was sewing just regular paintings on canvas to the African fabric, and then I just felt more in love with the African fabric and separated it from that.”

Wright said, “The idea of quilting is such a deep conversation of some of those Black vernacular experiences. But at the same time, I try to narrow the view of the use of the fabric because I respect what my grandmothers did, and I respect those quilters, and I would not want to call myself a quilter because I’m not using some of those same traditional tools. I’m kind of bringing that idea, those concepts of sampling, like hip-hop sampling, into fine art by taking these different motifs that we know to be one thing, and then sewing them together, so they become something much larger.”

Jamele Wright Sr.’s “Project Wall West” exhibition is on view through July 30 at the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University. More information is available at arts.kennesaw.edu/zuckerman/exhibitions/current.php.