ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
July 20 – 31, 2022
Sam Modder is a Nigerian-Sri Lankan artist who works figuratively in pen, collage, and digital media to portray Black and female characters taking up space and being unapologetically themselves. She graduated from Dartmouth in 2017 with a double major in Engineering and Studio Art and recently received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis in 2022.
As a little Black girl growing up in Southeast Asia, I was a spectacle. The finger-pointing, jokes, and stares were a constant reminder that my Blackness was not only different but supposedly inferior. In my work, I reclaim this spectacle through self-portraiture that takes up space unapologetically. My self-portraits tell new narratives that go beyond the here and now of the stories and experiences that have sought to define me. This is the power of the imaginary within the Black diaspora. For a people whose “here and now” has often featured the worst forms of physical, mental, cultural, and spiritual oppression, the Black imaginary enables moments of relief, pleasure, and breakthrough, even while speaking to those difficult realities. In this safe creative space, I join those that work toward a reality that might one day imitate narrative.
I begin with the figure, working in pen, paper, and collage to form my characters. With gentle strokes of my ballpoint pen I draw curls with the same patience I spend detangling my own, making the mundane precious in the application. As the figure progresses, I work non-linearly, scanning the drawings to recompose them in new digital compositions and patterns, moving between the paper and the screen. This movement allows for both the spontaneity of my hand and the control of digital tools.
The exaggerated poses, strong action lines and clear silhouettes in my work borrow from the visual language of comics to emphasize the defining feature of my characters: their hair. With soft curls and defiant shapes, I use Black hair to both comfort and confront. In the gaze of my Black sisters, hair is a point of connection, a way of saying “I see you; I am you.” In the gaze of others, hair is often political because it is the easiest racialized feature to change or conceal. Black hair then is framed as a choice – either resist or conform to a world built on the assumption of white supremacy. In my work, I make my choice, choosing to draw Black hair that is expansive, free, and ever-evolving.
In many ways, my work is for the little Black girl I was, providing her with narratives of escape, uplift, and breakthrough in the midst of an oppressive reality. Within the continued project of the Black imaginary, I center my personal experiences and imaginings, aiming to confront issues of race, gender, and identity as I take up space for myself and others.
Images courtesy of the artist