Joy Machine #3, Kick Push, Ring The Alarm, Fly, 2019. Mixed-media assemblage, 54 x 94 x 22 in. Photo: Courtesy Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, New York and Fort Gansevoort, New York

What Remains In a Person’s Soul: A Conversation with Vanessa German

Visual and performance artist and activist Vanessa German might also be described as a full-time resident artist. Her Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood is the driving force behind her work; it is also home to the ARThouse, a community arts initiative that she founded in 2009 to bring art to local children, and the Museum of Resilience, an ongoing labor of love that blends pilgrimage, remembrance, and reflection into an experience of shared humanity, transformation, and creativity. German’s work ranges from spoken-word poetry to personal “power figures” made from discarded materials and large-scale, multisensory installations, as well as portrait collages of popular personalities such as tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams. German’s practice coheres around central themes related to storytelling, marginalized voices, and the ability of art to be an empowering force of community engagement.

Amanda Dalla Villa Adams: What was art like for you growing up?
Vanessa German:
I’m the daughter of a fiber artist. I always watched my mother make things. She mined her materials from this world—flea markets and fabric stores. I would watch how much finding the right materials meant to her. She would walk into fabric stores and touch fabric and get really close to it. I always had respect for the dimensions of the making process. I grew up in Los Angeles in an environment where people found out they were HIV positive and getting AIDS. I grew up very aware of the fragility of life . . .

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