“In the Lush Landscape of Ebony G. Patterson’s New Exhibition, Fashion Plays a Powerful Role,” writes Chioma Nnadi (Vogue). She is referring to “While the Dew Is Still on the Roses,” Patterson’s new solo show at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami.
Walk through “While the Dew Is Still on the Roses,” Ebony G. Patterson’s new solo show at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, and it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. At first glance, the scene appears like a serene moonlit garden. A magical, pearl-encrusted tapestry lies at your feet sprigged with crochet flowers, like pink peonies in full bloom; appliqué banana leaves dusted with glitter are plastered on the walls; bunches of red, orange, and white carnations form the colorful topiary-style sculptures dotted around the space.
But don’t be fooled: This is no earthly paradise. Something ominous lurks in the bushes. Entangled in the lush flora and fauna of her work, discarded pieces of clothing suggest a missing person’s report. A ghostly, frosted glass sneaker is nestled in a bed of flowers. And wait—is that a headless body lying in the grass? Dismembered black and brown hands and feet? Then it dawns on you: A dark spirit blights this enchanted place. Dangling from the ceiling like a murderous flock of vultures circling an open grave are hundreds of women’s shoes, dipped in sparkling black paint.
Though Patterson’s work seems to be teeming with life on the surface, her art confronts death head-on, specifically the untimely deaths of black and brown people. Her seductive multimedia pieces are designed to pry open the thorniest conversations around race and social injustice that continue to plague our society. And in this highly fraught tableau, fashion and style play an important role.
To gather the 756 pairs it took to build her shoe cloud—one of several site-specific new works in the show—Patterson put the call out on social media, asking friends to donate their old shoes. The Jamaican artist, who splits her time between the Caribbean and the States, also trawled the thrift stores of Lexington, Kentucky, where she teaches. “I remember making one trip to Goodwill, and picking up so many shoes that the cashier turned to me and said, ‘Nobody’s ever going to believe that I rung up $300 on one bill,’ ” she says. Like sneakers strung up on phone lines, the resulting piece is a public memorial of sorts, bearing witness to a host of souls unknown and unseen.
[Photo above by Oriol Tarridas.]