Given her training as a calligrapher and bookbinder, it’s unsurprising that Dallas artist Andrea Tosten finds inspiration in literary texts. In her current exhibition at Cluley Projects, Tosten’s work explores her Creole-Jamaican heritage and identity as a Black woman with European and Indigenous roots.
On display are paper quilts referencing five epistolary novels including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Octavia Butler’s Parable of Sowers, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. One may wonder what these novels have in common, besides belonging to the epistolary genre (books based on letters or journal entries). I immediately drew connections between monsters/demons — emotional, spiritual, and physical, as well as destruction through human fallibility. By creating the quilts from paper, Tosten references the books, and each square contains excerpts from the novels. Each quilt follows one aspect of the novels’ structure, including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. This methodology mimics historical events. In this way, viewers may reflect upon the texts drawing connections to their personal and collective histories. The paper’s fragility and strength serves as an apt metaphor for resilience, as well as the quilt’s function as a tool for communicating oral history.
Accompanying the quilts are new drawings inspired by a book of voodoo spells by famed practitioner Mary Laveau. Words from the book are meticulously drawn and redrawn, creating intricate patterns and designs. The repetitive act of drawing suggests ritual, like conjuring the words to life.
Also, on display is a video installation entitled Griffe, which features a series of thaumatropes, an optical toy developed in the early 1800’s. Tosten’s thaumatropes include combinations of words that reference miscegenation. The word “griffe” is defined as a person of ¾ black and ¼ white ancestry, or a person of mixed black and American Indian blood. It is also interesting that the word can mean a scratch mark or a brand, someone who leaves their mark behind. Accompanying the video is a haunting rendition of a Nora Neale Hurston folklore song, “Please Don’t Drive Me Convict Song,” performed by Dashon Moore, the artist’s oldest son. The music, in combination with the animated thaumatropes, allows viewers to think about how words and labels define humanity.
Griffe is on view at Cluley Projects in Dallas until March 19, 2022.