Stephanie J. Woods: my papa used to play checkers​

May 28 - September 17, 2023

Stephanie J. Woods is a multimedia artist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, primarily working in the fields of photography, fiber, video, and sculpture. She also creates mixed-media works, handcrafting the props featured in her photographs. Raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, she cultivates an artistic practice concerned with exploring Black Southern American culture and identity and the impact of involuntary cultural assimilation.

For her solo exhibition, my papa used to play checkers, titled after her eponymous photograph (2022), Woods presents a body of her recent work created after her life-changing artist residency at Black Rock Senegal in Dakar, Senegal in 2021. During her sojourn, she witnessed firsthand how much African culture and tradition has survived and continues to thrive in Black American communities. The same game of draughts that the Senegalese people play today was for her a familiar childhood pastime; the colorful, patterned textiles sold by street vendors were all so mesmerizing and relatable. Inspired by such indelible traces of a transatlantic cultural continuity and memories of play and creativity among Black people, Woods has created an enchanting video, your destination is in a different time zone (2023), as well as a suspended curtain woven from hair and ceramic okra, titled we makin gumbo? (2023). Her works are brooding and meditative, yet simultaneously they act as joyful reflections on the complicated history and ongoing lived experiences of Black Americans, highlighting resiliency and ingenuity.

Woods’ visual creations are accompanied by poems written by frequent collaborator and poet, Laura Neal, in response to her work. Original scores composed by Johannes Barfield, another regular collaborator, further enrich this exhibition, in which all of the elements are conceived as part of a single, immersive installation. Interested in fostering empathy and bringing people together through her conceptual artistic practice, Woods invites visitors to become reflective viewers who actively dwell on the historical realities through her affirmative images, including those of Afro-textured hair and watermelon as symbolic representations of Black self-expression.
Woods is the 2021 winner of the Gibbes Museum’s 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, and her work is housed in the permanent collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, Virginia.
This exhibition is organized by Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design and curated by Rangsook Yoon, Ph.D., senior curator, Sarasota Art Museum.