Patrice Renee Washington ’14 Explores Identity Through Ceramics

Carlos Barragán
June 24, 2024

Visual Arts alumna Patrice Renee Washington ’14 is presenting Tendril, a profound solo exhibition that explores identity through sculpture and ceramics. Hosted at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, the exhibition runs through July 14, 2024.

Tendril brings together a collection of works investigating the intersections of race, class, and gender. Washington's art invites viewers to reflect on how identity can be manipulated and shaped to achieve different ends, revealing the complexities and dualities within cultural symbols.

“Ceramics is a medium that we often use to decipher and understand history, which is an action that often happens through the discovery of artifacts,” Washington said. “With my exhibition, Tendril, I was interested in creating my own language via object making, through an artifact-like lens.”

Washington’s freestanding vessels pay tribute to historical Central African nkisi sculptures—hollowed figures filled with medicinal herbs and sacred substances to “empower” them to protect people and communities. This historical reference is seamlessly juxtaposed with her delftware-inspired tile paintings, which rework the white European delft tradition to center the experiences of Black subjects. In Tendril, Washington also explores Black women’s hair—referenced in the exhibition’s title—as symbols of both strength and vulnerability. Inlaid in heavily glazed surfaces, her cylindrical forms depict braiding styles such as cornrows, braids, locks, weaves, and Bantu knots.

The watermelon is also a key symbol in this exhibition. Washington uses it to reclaim historical narratives about Black life in the United States, especially in the American South. In her work, the sliced watermelon and its seeds represent perseverance, achievement, and the racist associations linked to African American farmers.

Tendril is curated by ICA Curator Amber Esseiva.