Begin/Again: Marking Black Memories

Maya Freelon

About the Artist 

Maya Freelon is an award-winning artist best known for her lively, colorful paper sculptures, made primarily from tissue paper. Her godmother, Maya Angelou, described her work as “visualizing the truth about the vulnerability and power of the human being."

For the past decade, Freelon has experimented with familiar, inexpensive materials such as tissue paper and glue as part of her dedication to making “art that’s inclusive, art that’s accessible and art that builds bridges.” As the daughter of an architect father and jazz singing mother, she learned skill, focus, and wild improvisation, as well as art’s potential to make our everyday lives more joyful. She values venues and commissions that expose her work to large, diverse audiences, and believes an internet router is as deserving of artistic attention as a gallery wall.

In addition to museum exhibitions, she has produced work for Google and Cadillac, and the Smithsonian, as well as for hotels, healthcare facilities, and government embassies. Her art has a wide, popular appeal and been featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Ebony Magazine, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Modern Luxury Magazine.

Artist's Website 

About the Work 

Freelon discovered her favorite medium of tissue paper monoprint by a happy accident. While she was an art student she lived with her grandmother, Frances J. Pierce, and one day came across some tissue paper tucked away in the basement. Influenced by her grandmother, who came from a family of sharecroppers ("who never got their fair share") and had been an elementary school teacher for thirty years, she never wasted anything. A water leak had caused the colors in the tissue paper to bleed.

"It was a metaphor for finding beauty in the simplest form, the fragility of life," reflects Freelon. It is also a way to honor her grandmother, who has been a constant source of inspiration and support, and whose favorite sayings often provide Freelon with the titles for her artwork. 

Since that day, Freelon has mined the creative possibilities of tissue paper. It’s a choice guided by politics as well as aesthetics. When Freelon uses this humble material in the high art context of museums and galleries, she challenges paradigms of power and honors the creative potential of every member of a community. "I am because we are," she insists, and has worked with groups of people to create collaborative "tissue quilts" in homage to African American quilting bees. To create Begin/Again, Freelon started with vibrantly dyed tissue paper. While the tissue was still wet, it was pressed into an absorbent paper then spun on a pottery wheel, creating a visual vortex of braided colors. 

From the Artist 

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