Vanessa Johnson: Griot/Fiber Artist
I am a Griot, a storyteller in the West African Tradition.
Through my visual work and through my performance work, I tell the
traditional stories of Africa, the historical and contemporary stories of
the African American and Diaspora experience, and the stories of my
Transnational Life of living between the U.S. and Ghana, West Africa. I tell these experiences visually, through combining the whispered stories of my ancestors with my lived experiences and my personal
witnessing of living as an African American.
My work is based in traditional African art forms that I reinterpreted through an African
American identity. I use cloth from West Africa and the Americas, the
tie dye and batik traditions of Nigeria and Ghana as well as the U.S.,
quilt and fiber traditions from both worlds of my life. My soft
sculpture fetishes contain the magical power of the carved Power
Figures traditional African Belief Systems. My work is often
embellished with “gris gris” filled with soil from the Motherland, from
sites in the Diaspora, as well as soil I have dug from places of social
conflict in the United States. I use found objects from the streets of
cities and villages that I travel in Ghana, as well as from the streets of
places I have traveled in the U.S. Like the nails and metal pounded
into wood that empowers ritualistic figures in Africa, this soil, these
found objects, these modern day gris gris empower my quilts and
fetishes to tell the stories of the Ancestors, the stories of the
Diaspora....the stories of my life.