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Stephanie J. Woods exhibit shines in 'Coined in the South' showcase
Juried show is Oct. 10-Feb. 16
Published Thursday, October 10, 2019 1:53 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Stephanie J. Woods is one of 45 artists whos works are in “Coined in  the South, a juried exhibit  at the Mint Museum Uptown.

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Stephanie J. Woods’ work was made in the South for the South.

The Charlotte native is one of 45 artists in “Coined in the South,” a juried exhibit running at the Mint Museum Uptown on the fourth level Oct. 10-Feb. 16. Jonell Logan, Marilyn Zapf and Adam Justice were jurors for the show, selecting 65 works to showcase of the 2,000 submitted. Three cash prizes will be awarded; $10,000 Atrium Health Prize on opening night, as well as a $5,000 Young Affiliates of the Mint and a $1,000 “Peoples’ Choice,” which visitors will vote on. It will be awarded before 2020.

Woods’ works at the Mint includes three of 21 photos from her project “Lavender Notes.” It incorporates an extensive communal element, and is the continuation of the work she started during her residency at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. She has continued this work through other residencies, such as the ACRE Residency in Wisconsin, the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and she is currently a fellow for nine months in Washington, D.C. at the Halcyon.

“I began this community engagement project while I was at the McColl entitled, ‘Relax. Relate. Release,’” said Woods, a Myers Park High School alumna.

Her immersive instillation served as a space for visitors to sit down and stay a while. The setting? Six embellished seat cushions, which surrounded a bonnet presented the words bold, brilliant, strong, magical, determined and radiant. Visitors were asked to answer questions presented on lavender notecards.

“The instillation aesthetically was based off of satin bonnets, which are typically worn at night to protect natural African American hair, or just natural curly hair in general,” Woods said. “I wanted to use the symbol of a satin bonnet to create really this meditative space where black women can come, have a seat, have a conversation and just relax, relate and release with one another.”

Said Mint Senior Curator of American Art Jonathan Stuhlman: “Stephanie combines powerful ideas about identities and the African American experience and the pressure that people in that community face, and the intersection of that with a really interesting approach in terms of materials, and how the pieces came together.”

Woods described the space she fostered as one where women could “come and maintain their dignity in the face of prejudice, aggression and violence.” The experience was set up at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture. It left her with countless cards from women sharing different experiences. At the time she was in Massachusetts.

“I was trying to figure out what to do with these cards, and how to keep the conversation going,” Woods said. “I immediately started making satin bonnets, and started taking fragments of text that was written in the card and place them onto the bonnet, and then began shipping them out to women, and asking them if they could send me a written reflection back. I would take some of their words, and put it on another bonnet, and send it to another woman. It became this cycle of me sending out these bonnets and these texts, specifically to women in the Southern region of America.”

Bonnets were documented before she would ship them off. It resulted in 21 photos, three of which are featured in “Coined in the South.”

“In the photos I’m kind of having a conversation with myself about me dealing with extreme social anxiety on a daily basis,” Woods said. “There was a moment when I was reading the cards when I realized that a lot of what was written by these women were really inspirational and uplifting. I was trying to figure out ways to apply that to myself and how I navigate through the world.”

Her stance in these photos offers two interpretations, which she explained as she is hugging herself, or guarding herself. Each bonnet has text on it, following her symbolism of a protected space.

“They ultimately turn into shields that are covering my face,” Woods said.

Each piece is housed in a custom frame she made, incorporating a window cornice. Her goal is to foster the illusion of, “peering into a domestic space—a private space that is ultimately being made public.”

“That’s why the backdrop of the photos is a rug that was in the home I was living in at the time,” Woods said. “The frames are covered in burlap that’s dyed with sweet tea, which is also a conversation about location and where I’m from. The frames are embellished with additional gold text that’s not legible. It really asks these questions of ‘how much should we release, and how much should we remain guarded about?’”

“Coined in the South” is the continuation of the YAMs juried exhibitions, which they have done for the last three years each summer, starting with “80x80” in celebration of the institution’s 80th anniversary in 2016, followed by “Gendered” and “Mainframe.” However, it is the first exhibition that the museum itself is partnering with YAMs in a main exhibition space, rather than the fifth level where YAMs shows have typically been held. The show also has a longer run than previous YAMs shows.

“It’s another way that we can reach out and connect to our local artist community, and to give artists—some of them, if not all of them—their first chance to exhibit in a museum setting,” Stuhlman said. “It connects back to a long history that the Mint has had since really its opening year of showing local and regional contemporary art, and also dating back to the 1950s-60s, we had a long history of doing regional juried exhibitions. We had those types of exhibitions all the way up through the 1990s. Five or six years ago, we started thinking, ‘what can we do to connect with the community a little bit more and really celebrate the local artists in our community? Maybe we should go back to these juried shows,” Stuhlman said. “Our Young Affiliates group came to us around that time and said they were interested in visiting that idea.”

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