Sharif Bey: Colonial Ruptures

Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada

May 14 - August 282022


“I am inspired by folklore, functional pottery, modernism, natural history, and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works investigate the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, questioning how the meanings of icons, objects, and functions transform across cultures and over time.” – Sharif Bey


Sharif Bey works figuratively, often repurposing fragments of his own earlier sculptures to create beings with a sense of wonder, ritual, and ambiguity.


Bey’s works foreground African and Afro-diasporic aesthetic traditions. Central African power figures, or nkisi, and physiognomies emblematic of Blackness figure prominently, while other influences include ancient Andean ceramics and contemporary popular culture. Bey enlivens his forms with jutting nails, porcelain shards, and other inclusions, giving his figures an energetic presence. For Bey, the removal of nkisi and other historical artifacts from their cultures of origin represents colonial violence, but also an opportunity for speculation and wonder. What power do these objects hold? What were their original meanings?


Each sculpture is structured around a central pottery form. Bey’s works begin as hollow ceramic, often made on a wheel. To these pots, Bey may add a mask, legs, or lid, making explicit the connection between bodies and vessels, while rendering utility symbolic.


The shard, inclusion, and vessel come together to mirror the capacity for wonder found in historical artifacts removed from their cultures of origin. These works invite us to speculate forward, imagining the worlds and rituals they could embody.

May 14, 2022