By Noah Washington
“Design is made by people and is connected to our humanity,” Stephen Burk, master artist remarked. Nothing has been more painfully human than the shared experiences of the last two years since the coronavirus pandemic began. This is what Burk’s latest exhibit, Shelter in Place relies upon. Debuting at the High Museum of Art this week and running through March 5, Burk’s assessment of the pandemic manifests in physical form through the pieces that are a part of the exhibit.
The exhibition includes over 50 works that demonstrate the breadth of his practice. Apart of the exhibit is “Crafting Diversity,” a new collaboration with students at Berea College in Kentucky, which focuses on the inclusive and innovative nature of Burks’ design process while highlighting an institution that has fostered a utopian, anti-racist culture.
Several pieces adapted the use of traditional African weaving patterns such as twinning and much more of the work took visual reference to West African craftsmanship.
One of the subtler pieces displayed at the exhibit is the “Spirit House,” which memorializes the late and great Bell Hooks, with whom Burk had a close relationship, before her passing late last year. This creation affirmed the West African inspiration that Burk drew from in making this awe-inspiring collection.
“We weren’t thinking about doing a show in Atlanta, especially when we were designing pieces like “The Ancestors” or even when I was in conversations with people like Bell Hooks, who were in my life,” Burk. “I have had an incredible amount of access in my life and it means a lot to bring my work here and represent my culture.”
During the showing the magnanimous quote “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda,” by W.E.B Dubois from his essay, “ Criteria of Negro Art” entered the conversation. Burk’s wish is that his work inspires young people as much as it starts conversations for the old.
“The challenge for us in the African-American community is seeing ourselves represented in the world, especially in the arts. I hope that the work shows others how they can overcome those challenges,” Burk said.
The exhibition is presented in the Special Exhibition Galleries on the Second Level of the High Museum’s Stent Family Wing.
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