Piecing Together – Lorna Simpson

It’s not very often you come across a creative who has been in the field for over 30 years and still holds relevance now. Well, considering that most platforms where we seek inspiration are largely dominated by young talents, it’s understandable why we are hardly introduced to those who were most likely the foundation on which our creative industry grew.

Recently, we met a young artist who, sort of, re-ignited our interest in collage work and set us on a path that led to perusing the works of Lorna Simpson, an African American Artist and photographer who made her name way back in the 80’s and 90’s.

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The striking thing about her work is the effortless way it cajoles the eye to pay attention to the richness and color of the mane. Yes, the facial features and expressions are rather salient, but they would most likely be noticed only on second glance. And agreed, art is considered to hold more than what’s apparent, still, we are our own interpret. Generally, these collage images, created with ink and embossing powder on paper are quickly embedded deep in your memory, like it or not.


Best known for photography and video, Lonra is a multimedia artist who started out as a documentary street photographer, addressing themes of cultural, political, and social significance, then made a creative transition from photography to the moving image and began exploring ethnic divisions in the 1980s era of multiculturalism, while maintaining the roots of her work in the documentary photography tradition.

At a time, she also began to experiment with printing her images on felt, as opposed to glossy photographic paper. This resulted in photographs that seemed to absorb light rather than reflect it, which brought her to further explore the relationship between the image and the viewer–so much so that it is increasingly difficult to think of her as simply a photographer. Her art, rather, approaches painting, sculpture, and even film, in its relation to its audience.

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Her work typically explores the perception of African American women in contemporary society with the “use” of photographs and film as well as found objects of many kinds.

“The subject that I reach towards most often is memory. But beyond the subject matter the common thread is my relationship to text and to ideas around representation. The work has changed in terms of medium, format, even in terms of genres.”


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Lorna’s imagery is culled from both original photographs and those she collects from eBay and flea markets. In order to make her subjects elusive or adaptable to any narrative, Simpson rarely depicts them from the front, and instead shows them from behind or with their faces and eyes obscured or omitted. Placing an emphasis on the social and political implications of African hairstyles and textures, her 1994 piece Wigs (Portfolio) presents an almost scientific study of hairpieces, aiming to underscore the wig as a tool of conformity and agent for physical transformation.

Her photo-text pieces as well as her film and video installations incorporate yet challenge photographic and moving picture genres to question identity and memory, gender and history, fact and fiction.

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Fact is, the blank spaces on our wall would readily welcome a piece from her, that said while ignoring the friendly reminder that art costs a lot. But what’s a world without wishes?


 Site | A book featuring a collection of her images.



Credits| Art.Sy | Art Space | Salon94 | Fep-Photo | Learner | Biography