Personal Alchemy: Terri Friedman, Maria Paz, Muzae Sesay
November 6, 2020 – February 4, 2021
Installation view of Personal Alchemy, 2020. Photos by Impart Photography.
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This exhibition brings together woven textiles by Terri Friedman, ceramic sculpture by Maria Paz, and paintings by Muzae Sesay.
Alchemy, the ancient philosophy focused on the purification and transformation of materials into gold, has long been tied to art. The Italian scholar and curator Arturo Schwarz once said, “The alchemist and the artist share the same ambition: that of doing to understand, and of understanding to transform, both themselves and the world.” In Personal Alchemy three Bay Area artists transform personal memories, concerns, and pain into work that inspires positivity and empathy. This exhibition brings together woven textiles by Terri Friedman, ceramic sculpture by Maria Paz, and paintings by Muzae Sesay. Each artist uses art as a catalyst for healing and combatting anxieties, both personal and political.
For Terri Friedman, weaving is a method of healing by taking action against despair. Friedman relates the act of weaving to the wiring of the brain. She is interested in neuroplasticity and how our thoughts influence the brain’s capacity to create new neural pathways. Many of Friedman’s textiles in Personal Alchemy contain text that reflects both her anxiety about the state of the world and optimism toward its future, weaving the words “Now,” “SOS,” and “Wrong Way” through her panels. She uses color, abstraction, and text as “memorials of light coming through loss…all through a filter of optimism.”
Maria Paz’s ceramics are vessels for storytelling, illustrated with a cacophony of personal iconography, vignettes of memories, and intimate experiences. Her work confronts her duality of identity as a Chilean growing up in the United States. She explores the bond broken with her home country, confronting personal and familial pain while honoring her ancestors. Paz’s ceramics celebrate vulnerability in both content and form, embracing cracks and imperfections. In Personal Alchemy Paz introduces new large ceramic pieces and a mural honoring her grandparents. The black sand surrounding the large works reference memories of black sand beaches in Chile.
Muzae Sesay’s work explores environments and spaces, touching upon themes of community, urbanization, and home. For his series in Personal Alchemy, Sesay focuses on the breezeblock, a type of concrete block that allows for both airflow and decoration, as a meditation on the mundane. Breezeblocks were popular in mid-century modern California architecture, particularly in Southern California where the artist grew up. In Sesay’s words, “Either way, the story is less about the breeze block itself and more so the idea of what it means to allow oneself the space and time to investigate the mundane. To connect the physical objects all around us to the larger picture of human experience.… Attempting to empathize with breeze blocks ushers in a sense of peace and stillness of the mind. The repetition of a single motif acting as mantras building upon themselves on the canvas. This also represents a type of freedom I frequently address in my work; a freedom to fixate, navigate, and discover outside any perceived confines or limitations. Within the context of Blackness, this is the type of cognition society has denied us and I am keen on reclaiming.”
Sesay, Paz, and Friedman are focused on interconnection, using personal experience and emotions in creating work that explores what it means to be human.
Terri Friedman was born in Colorado, and currently resides in the Bay Area. She received a BA from Brown University, Providence, RI, and an MFA from Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA. She is an Associate Professor at California College for the Arts (CCA). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with solo exhibitions at CUE Art Foundation, New York; Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco; ACME Gallery Los Angeles; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film ARchive, Berkeley; Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta; Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica; and Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco. Her work has been exhibited at CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands; Long Beach Museum of Art; Lancaster Museum of Art and History; James Cohan Gallery, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; and San Jose Museum of Art.
Maria Paz was born in Quilpue, Chile and is a self-taught Latinx sculptor based in Oakland, California. Recently, Paz’s work has been exhibited at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Pt. 2 Gallery, Oakland; Southern Exposure, San Francisco; Something Gallery, London, England; and New Image Art, Los Angeles. Her ceramic sculptures explore themes of immigration, ancestral reparations, and community healing. Paz was a finalist for the 2019-2020 TOSA Studio Award and has held workshops at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. She was recently awarded the Bed Stuy Arts Residency in Brooklyn, New York and is currently preparing for a solo exhibition at pt. 2 Gallery, Oakland opening August, 2020.
Muzae Sesay was born in Long Beach, California. He currently lives and works in Oakland, California. Sesay has had solo exhibitions at pt. 2 in Oakland and I.M.A in San Francisco. Selected group exhibitions include Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco; SOMArts, San Francisco; FISK Gallery, Portland, Oregon; V1 Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark; and Swim Gallery, San Francisco. Sesay’s work is currently on view at SFMOMA. He will also be creating a large mural in downtown Oakland in August 2020.
Personal Alchemy is supported in part by Members of the ICA’s Director’s Circle and by Kelly-Moore Paints.