The Phillips Collects: Leonardo Drew

Curatorial Assistant Camille Brown on Leonardo Drew’s Number 220, which was recently acquired by The Phillips Collection.

In Number 220, Leonardo Drew (b. 1961, Tallahassee, FL; lives in Brooklyn, NY) transforms wood into a wave. Drew’s architectural sculptures defy space and gravity and are often forged using a mix of found and natural materials. Drew’s sculptures tread the line between order and chaos, regeneration and decay, and evoke reflections on time, history, and nature. His numbered works serve as an “invitation” for viewers to “complete” the piece through their engagement. In his own words: [my work] is a “mirror, and you should be able to find yourself in it.”

Learn more about Leonardo Drew from our Conversations with Artists event in 2020.

Leonardo Drew, Number 220, 2017, Wood, 27 x 47 x 22 in., The Phillips Collection, Director’s Discretionary Fund, 2021


The Phillips Collects: Marta Pérez García

2021-22 Sherman Fairchild Fellow Shiloah Coley speaks with Inside Outside, Upside Down artist Marta Pérez García, whose work Your Hand has been acquired by the museum.

Marta Pérez García, Your Hand, 2020, Molded cotton handmade paper and stitching with yarn, 19 × 11 × 2 in., Courtesy of the artist

Tu mano
Tu mano,/ La misma que una vez me acaricio / Ahora me arrebato la vida.
Your Hand
Your Hand,/ The very one that once caressed me / Has now taken my life.

This is the poem that is stitched across the top of Marta Pérez García’s Your Hand. The work begins to break the boundary between 2D and 3D as the vibrantly colored stitched hand emerges off of the molded cotton handmade paper.

“This is who we are. This is our temple. This is where we suffer, where we laugh,” said Pérez García in reference to the significance of a woman’s body. “This is who we are, and when I created the piece now in The Phillips Collection, I thought about the hand, and how the hand becomes a weapon. At the same time, it is something that caresses, that helps people.”

Domestic violence has been referred to as the “shadow pandemic” by UN Women. While many found comfort in their homes when directed to shelter in place due to the outbreak of covid-19, the reality for many was that the closing of schools and services (where mandated reporters are often found), paired with family isolation and additional stresses from the pandemic, created the perfect storm for domestic violence.

Pérez García has worked with survivors on projects tackling gender violence as a central part of her practice. During the pandemic, she realized sheltering in place did not offer the safety it implied for survivors who would be left stranded with their abusers. The CDC even warned that more time spent in the home would likely increase the risk for child abuse, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence with less opportunities for victims and survivors to seek outside services or shelters. “For me it was very important to put this piece out there so people reflect and understand what it means for these women to be home right now,” Pérez Garcia says. Fellow Inside Outside, Upside Down artist Aaron Maier-Carretero also addressed this in his work recently acquired by the Phillips, not in front of the kids.

When contemplating which medium was best-suited for working with survivors, she shifted from her usual printmaking process to needle and yarn, remembering the lessons her grandmothers tried to teach her as a child in Puerto Rico. “I always thought, ‘I’m too hyper to do this!’,” shared Pérez García. “I remember one time Mama Loísa sat me down and gave me the stuff, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this. This is too meditative.’”

As she began to teach herself how to sew again, she found that the action of sewing didn’t relax her, but made her think: “I was reflecting about the lives of these women, then I was reflecting about my own life.” The sewing connected her own story to the stories of the women she worked with. “You realize that when you sew, you create a story. You talk and you’re sitting down with other people. It’s a space for you to really give a life to your stories.”

Sewing is a tradition that crosses many cultures. In the context of Latin America and the Caribbean, sewing is a craft and task often assigned to women as it has historically been viewed as “women’s work.” However, Pérez García’s work subverts that traditional view—what if sewing is an opportunity for liberation and the connection of our stories? a way for marginalized women across all communities to make their own freedom? “People have to reflect and think about these women,” said Pérez García.

The Phillips Collects: Nekisha Durrett

2021-22 Sherman Fairchild Fellow Shiloah Coley speaks with Nekisha Durrett about the recent acquisition of her work from the juried invitational Inside Outside, Upside Down

Nekisha Durrett, Eleanor Bumper killed by police on October 29, 1984 | Age 66, 2020-21, Magnolia leaves, poplar, velvet, acrylic, LED lighting, 19 1/4 x 19 1/4 x 5 3/4 in.. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Luke Walter Photography

Nekisha Durrett always knew she wanted to be an artist, and her chance encounter with Jacob Lawrence at The Phillips Collection made it seem a little more attainable. He was one of the first examples of a Black person she saw operating in that space, making a life as an artist. “You know that you want to be an artist, but you don’t see anyone else like you or in your family doing it. You’re not seeing people who look like you who are doing it and are successful in the ways that you see white artists—white male artists are successful,” said Durrett. “There is no roadmap. Everyone’s pathway is very different. Add on top of that not seeing any representation of anyone who looks like you who’s making a life of it. So in that regard, meeting Jacob Lawrence, seeing his work hanging in the museum, I think it probably became more of a maybe. It did feel just a little a bit more in reach.”

Her work from Inside Outside, Upside Down now joins the permanent collection at the Phillips alongside Lawrence’s work. Eleanor Bumper killed by police on October 29, 1984 | Age 66 honors the life of a Black woman killed by the police. The magnolia leaf dawns her carved-out name. While the magnolia tree is popular for its beautiful flowers, its leaves stand the test of time, refusing to decay or wither. The work is part of a larger series, Magnolia, honoring many Black women.

“I always see the outpouring of emotion or attention when Black men were murdered, and I felt like it wasn’t the same for Black women,” Durrett said, recalling her thought process behind the work. The delicate pieces differ from the larger public pieces and projects she typically takes on, but she couldn’t work on those to the same extent amid the pandemic. During the spring and summer of 2020, Durrett collected the fallen leaves from a magnolia tree in Rock Creek Cemetery, where she would go to process her anxiety and grief over the covid-19 pandemic and the continued police brutality against Black bodies.

Noting the immense amount of videos and images of violence against Black people circulating, the leaf emerged as a useful metaphor. “I didn’t want to put that kind of labor on Black bodies so using this leaf as a metaphor for the Black body just seems to make sense,” Durrett said. This work is intimate, demanding the viewer’s attention if they are to truly see it, asking them to get closer.

Similar to how Lawrence helped open the door for Durrett, she now continues that legacy with her audience. Her therapist, who is located around the corner from the Phillips, visited the museum to see her work, sharing that she’d never been before and didn’t think it was a space where she would see herself, a feeling far too familiar for marginalized folks, and especially Black folks in museum settings. “That is a part of the work. It’s creating a space where you can see yourself,” said Durrett.