The Skin I Live In, featuring Kiyan Williams '19

Kiyan Williams '19 Featured in Two Exhibitions This Summer

BY Angeline Dimambro, July 29, 2021

The work of Visual Arts alumnus Kiyan Williams ’19 is featured in two exhibitions opening this July.


The Skin I Live In is a group exhibition curated by Geena Brown now on display at Lyles & King Gallery in New York City. Williams' work is featured along with nineteen other artists. The exhibition investigates the multiplicity and fluidity of identity through artworks primarily concerned with performativity, mirroring, and how the self defies easy definition in physical and psychic realms.


Williams has two pieces featured in the exhibition. They are: “Terrestrial Form, Pour #2 after Benglis and Serra” (41” x 5 ½” x 19 ½”, earth, binder, synthetic fiber, hardware, vaseline, black truffle, steel base, and armature, 2021); and “Sentient Flesh” (33” x 12” x 25”, dehydrated mycelium/oyster mushroom, binder, plastic wrap, steel rod and base, 2021).


According to the exhibition statement, the show is informed by the Jungian concept of individuation, or, the constantly evolving process of defining oneself. “Whether through direct engagement with the body or textual explorations that probe our interior psyche, The Skin I Live In presents a range of potentiality for questioning and (re-)defining the self,” states the gallery’s press release. “The Skin I Live In presents the corporal body as a site of flux and resistance to heteronormative categories of sex, gender, and identity. This visual and linguistic explosion of static, binary thinking makes way for new modes of expression, desire and self-embodiment. Ultimately, the methods and materials we use to discover the truths and possibilities of our experience reveal both the traumas and joys of our individual and collective existence.”


The exhibition will run through August 14, 2021. Browse through more images from the exhibition here.

In addition to the group exhibition at Lyles & King, Williams’ Reaching Towards Warmer Suns (2020) is now on view on the grounds of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, which is among the world’s most outstanding private assemblies of modern and contemporary American art. 


According to the installation webpageReaching Towards Warmer Suns is a public work that was originally installed along the banks of the Powhatan River (James River) in Richmond, Virginia where some of the first enslaved Black people touched land in the new/ruined world. Made of soil derived from the river itself, the idea for the piece “emerged from Williams’ time along the slave docks of Virginia within the context of the pandemic and protests against on-going anti-Black police violence. Williams explained how the sculpture arose from a need to mark the paths of slavery as sacred, and ‘memorialize on-going struggles of self-determination for Black people’.”


Williams further explores how connecting with the earth helps the artist recover from racialized and gendered violence in the piece’s accompanying video essay, “Notes on Digging.”


“I had to dig it out,” Williams says in the video. “I had to find a way to get it out of and off of my body. I had to dig it out. If I didn’t, it would rot and fester and consume me from the inside out. And it was never mine to carry in the first place...So I began to dig. I began to dig to see what might come up. To see what traces of stolen life were left in the soil. I dug and I dug and I dug.”


The title of the work itself is a reference to a book—The Warmth of Other Suns written by Isabel Wilkerson. “The title of that book comes from a poem by Richard Wright, who likens Black people fleeing from the anti-Black violence of the South as plants being transplanted from their native soils and replanted in alien soils in the hopes of reaching towards warmer suns,” Williams says in the video. 


Reaching Towards Warmer Suns will be on view in the Anderson Collection from July 29th through December 5, 2021.


Kiyan Williams is a visual artist and writer from Newark, NJ who works fluidly across performance, sculpture, video, and 2D realms. Rooted in a process-driven practice, they are attracted to quotidian, unconventional materials and methods that evoke the historical, political, and ecological forces that shape individual and collective bodies. Williams earned a BA with honors from Stanford University and an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. 


Their work has been exhibited at SculptureCenter, The Jewish Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, Recess Art, and The Shed. They have given artist talks and lectures at the Hirshhorn Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Princeton University, Stanford University, Portland State University, The Guggenheim, and Pratt Institute. Williams’ work is in private and public collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Williams’ honors and awards include the Astraea Foundation Global Arts Fund and Stanford Arts Award. They were selected to participate in the 2019 In Practice: Other Objects emerging artist exhibition at SculptureCenter and are among the inaugural cohort of artists commissioned by The Shed. Williams was previously an artist fellow at Leslie-Lohman Museum and is an alum of the EMERGENYC fellowship at the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics at NYU. Williams is the recipient of the 2019/2020 Fountainhead Fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University, where they were on faculty in the Sculpture and Extended Media Department.