Erica E Harris
ARTIST STATEMENT: I live in Brooklyn, New York. The history, debris, languages, and industries of my metropolis are a huge source of materials and inspiration. I also teach art to children, both here and internationally. In recent years I have facilitated projects in India, Guatemala, Macedonia, Brazil, El Salvador, Southeast Asia, and Brooklyn. These settings have had a profound influence on my work, and the collaborations with children have been extremely rewarding exchanges. I learn as much, if not more, from looking at children's art and talking with them about their process and ideas as I do from the museums and galleries of New York. Using art as a tool to outline and interpret their relationships to family, school, work, play, death, violence, society, and the environment, I am provided with such a simple visual vocabulary, so eloquent and universal. Working in collaboration with communities where English is not spoken has also shaped the content of my work, particularly my relationship to language. I like using text; I use the printed word as a pattern, and I often refer to how words and images are interchangeable symbols. The story of the 20th century as told through an English as a Second Language primer is one I am compelled to cut up and re-tell. The basic sentences found in these elementary grammar books narrate customs, historic events, and approaches to everyday life in poetic ways that no history textbook has outlined. While traveling, I concentrate on collecting collage material: children's encyclopedias and alphabet books, found photographs, sewing patterns, maps, deeds, gravestone rubbings, diagrams and instructional manuals, mid-century magazine advertisements, medicine labels, food packaging, candy wrappers and other ephemera. I incorporate what I find and see in the streets, neighborhoods and marketplaces into the narratives of my pieces: people carrying towers of goods on their heads, toys constructed from tin cans and old bottles, houses and bird-feeders made of corroding metal bomb carcasses. In these countries that have been so damaged by years of war and poverty, I became fascinated by how everyday experiences and ordinary objects related to destruction, chaos, immigration, memory, survival and loss. Something very mundane and ordinary could be a symbol of safety, shelter, or peace, while simultaneously being a relic of war. It is in this context that I am drawn to the use of simple imagery: an airplane, a house, water, shoes, birds. Combining discarded materials to make these narratives, such as a schoolgirl with a dress quilted from teabags, or a nest of old road maps, is like creating a shrine, or providing a sanctuary for people, places and objects that need mending.