The artist Sarah Sense weaves Native American tradition with digital photography to tell her stories of belonging, writes Dory Walker.
Sarah Sense is a Native American artist whose recent exhibition Weaving Water at Bristol’s Rainmaker gallery is multilayered in content and meaning. She literally weaves landscapes photographed on her travels in South East Asia and the Caribbean into the traditional Chitimacha basket designs of her tribe. Her journey was a personal search for native art forms that linked to the art of the Chitimacha and Choctaw tribes as well as to other indigenous tribes across the world.
She explores themes of connection in isolated communities that have suffered from migration and draws a link through the element of water, the element that not only separates us – one land mass from another – but also joins us and offers a medium in which to reconnect and rediscover identity and cultural links.
Through following the migratory paths of her tribal ancestors, Sense travels across and literally dives deep into water (Paper Mermaids) and ultimately into her Self, to find a creative expression that references the art skills specific to her ancestry.
Digitally combining several images and then weaving the photographs together, Sense creates landscapes that meld several continents, peoples and bodies of water. Her complex and sublime imagery, rich and otherworldly, transports us and invites us to look for a unity beyond the physical plane.
Another layer woven into the pieces is the intensely personal aspect to Sense’s work. Written on the back of the photographs are her own struggles, love poems and yearnings. By weaving with just the occasional word visible, she hints at the struggle of all human existence, if we just take the time to look beyond the surface. This highlights a vulnerability that enriches the pieces with humanity and humility, joining all beings, no matter on which side of the water.
The circle has prominence in many of the pieces, weaving four corners of the work into a central ring of unity and coherence. The circles make reference to the sun and the moon – there are many sunrises and sunsets, moonrises and moonsets in the work – and the cosmic mother and father that stand over us, shining down upon us all. The feeling of belonging is examined through the symbolism of the circle and the metaphor of weaving.
Just as the strands of a basket weave together to form a vessel to carry things, so Sense’s images weave together different threads that transport the mind and carry us to a world of harmony and connection.
Sarah Sense’s journey and work have brought her into contact with other traditional artists, reaffirming that by making connections and reaching out we enrich our own existence and break down boundaries. By losing a physical sense of home, we connect to a true sense of home within our Self: a home that knows no boundary, no nation or culture.
Rainmaker gallery, which specialises in Native American art, is at 123 Coldharbour Road, Bristol BS6 7SN www.rainmakerart.co.uk