What are also central to Lewis’ practice are the mobility, legibility, and protection that can be afforded by collaboration and collectivism. She landed her first studio in the Coffin Factory, an artist-run building that was recently shuttered in Toronto, where she shared a space with seven other women. From there, Lewis joined the RAGGA NYC collective, which comprises queer Caribbean artists including Oreka James, Aaron Jones, Michèle Pearson Clarke, Camille Turner, and Syrus Marcus Ware. Within this context, Lewis has had the opportunity to show at MoMA PS1, New York, and Mercer Union, Toronto, among other institutions, and to align her work with particular conversations around figuration in black Canada, visibility, and what she calls ‘the wandering.’ Lewis reflects on this as she puts together her presentation for Art Basel. ‘What does it mean for folks in the diaspora to wander? Not for the purpose of finding answers, but for the purpose of wandering. What does this tendency to mythmaking represent in us? Why do we recycle?’ she asks.
Lewis extends this wandering and upcycling to her own education, regularly traveling to seek out the artists who affect her the most. ‘I figured out that if I really adored someone and their art, and they’re alive, I should try to find them and see their work in person.’ This has led her to meet with Lonnie Holley, an Atlanta-based icon among Southern folk art, the sculptors and painters represented by Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a community dedicated to promoting African-American art from the South, and the Gee’s Bend quilting association. ‘I think there’s a lineage,’ she says, gesturing to her own work, ‘though I do think there’s a cut-off of access at a certain point.’ I ask her what she means by this, and she explains by way of process, citing her tendency to embed objects in her sculptures. Acknowledging what’s unknowable about her art ancestry is similarly about preserving autonomy, she says, ‘There will always be things about blackness and experience that are simply not knowable, or to be captured or bought.’ And so Lewis turns to the imaginary.
Sky Goodden is the founding publisher and editor of the international art publication and podcast Momus.
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