Arianne King Comer at Sisson Gallery

A small quilt hangs on a wall. It is an American flag that has been overlaid with three sepia tone photos of a middle aged African American woman. Below the center photo, we can see a letter that details thoughts about Harriet Tubman.
Photo by Mark Lawyer

HFC’s Sisson Gallery is presenting a series of works by Arianne King Comer, which Director of Exhibitions, Steve Glazer, helped to procure for the gallery. Comer has a BFA from Howard University and has lived in South Carolina since 1995. Her works will be on display until March 24, capped off by an event where the public will have an opportunity to meet the artist. The display is titled “‘Ibile’- Those who speak through their ancestors.”

The display honors African American culture by portraying different cultural aspects throughout various periods of time in America. This ranges from figures such as Harriet Tubman to pictures of unknown people working on filling the bed of a truck. Another piece of work shows a lone brown horse in a stable next to a red barn and a barrel of hay.

On the left when you enter there is a series of quilted portraits that show African American women as mermaids. The quilts hang high and drape low to the point of almost touching the floor. The one on the left basks on a rock in broad daylight with bright colors. Its counterpart, or the quilt on the right, swims underwater in the dark of the night, as the moon glows, making the whole image iridescent.

Typically, in pop culture, movies like “The Little Mermaid” or “Aquamarine” depict mermaids as Caucasian and seem to have typical standards of beauty: straight, flowing hair and hourglass figures. Comer depicts strong, beautiful black women, with wild and flowing hair, who are confident and majestic; an atypical rendition of mermaid beauty while keeping the same buoyancy and exuberance.

Most other works in the exhibit are more historical whereas the mermaids are fantastical. A piece of batik-quilted artwork called “Becoming Harriet Tubman” rests on the western wall of the gallery. There are three pictures of Tubman: one smiling, one frowning, one settled with indifference, all on the backdrop of an American flag.

A central message of strength is echoed throughout the artwork. Harriet Tubman is considered courageous and strong for her work in the underground railroad. Comer states her work is about, “honoring history, ancestral cultural influences, nature’s wonders and social justice.” History and social justice are represented by “Becoming Harriet Tubman,” while natural beauty can be seen in the mermaids, and ancestral and cultural influences are present in all of the art pieces.

When talking about the displays, Comer says that not one piece is most meaningful to her, but, “At this point … several.” Comer goes on to say, “Processing Indigo, Osun Dancing, James Historical (Ancestral) Home ... my newest vision I’m working on always means the most.”

There is much to enjoy at the Sisson with this exhibit. Comer brings not only creative new textile work, but also pays homage to African American culture and history during Black History Month.