Kiyan Williams '19, Sentient Ruin, 2021

Alumnus Kiyan WIlliams '19 Featured in Two Shows

BY Catherine Fisher, October 29, 2021

Alumnus Kiyan Williams ’19 is featured in two group shows this season. In New York, they are included alongside three other artists at The Center for Book Arts. This show, How to Cook a Wolf, is on view until December 1, 2021. Taking its name from M.F.K Fisher’s collection of essays, the show brings together a selection of artworks produced between 2020-2021. These new pieces address this time of epidemiological and political unrest through a culinary lens. 


The press release notes, “in the aftermath of such depravity and loss, artists have activated culinary rituals as profound sites of exchange: countering isolation, affliction, and scarcity with new networks of care, collaboration, and sustenance.” Fisher’s 1942 book advocated for “pleasure and possibility in wartime,” making it a fitting reference for this exhibition in which  “artworks...double as food stories and sources of solidarity during this unprecedented period.”


For this piece, Williams made a sculpture by frying an American flag.To my eye, the bubbles from frying alongside the red of the stripes blurred the line between the flag and pizza. In this way, pizza’s identity as a foreign food that has come to stand in for a classic American treat is brought to the forefront. By conflating these two images, Williams uses food to gesture towards the impurity of America, that we are always already a country of mixture. Further, there is the inherent provocation of making art with the American flag. In so doing, Williams demands that the viewer interrogate what is sacred about this symbol and why.


The second show is the artist’s first in Canada. Held at the Visual Arts Center of ClaringtonBodies in Conflict is on view until December 15, 2021. This exhibition focuses on new site-specific installations that detail the historical and continued subjugation of marginalized communities.  

Here, Williams’s sculptures approximate the human form. These pieces are made largely of soil and appear to the viewer in various states of ruin or becoming depending on the viewpoint. One is asked to wonder whether the human form that brings to mind race through the deep brown color of the soil is assembling itself or crumbling away. 


Williams is originally from Newark, NJ and works fluidly across performance, sculpture, video, and two-dimensional realms. They are attracted to quotidian, unconventional materials and methods that evoke the historical, political, and ecological forces that shape individual and collective bodies. Their work has been exhibited at SculptureCenter, The Jewish Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and Socrates Sculpture Park among many other locations. Williams’ work is in private and public collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. They are the recipient of the 2019/2020 Fountainhead Fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University, where they were on faculty in the Sculpture and Extended Media Department.