I first came across Stephen Hamilton’s work at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury, Massachusetts in the 2017 show, “Black Gods Live: Work of Stephen Hamilton.” I was struck by the vibrant representations of African men and women, the handcrafted tapestries and the narratives in his work. I took to following him on social media to keep up with his practice and recently did a studio visit with him to find out more about his new work. “The Founders Project” will be on view at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square in November, courtesy of Now and There. One can trace the development of this series in his recent work.
“Portraits of the Orisa: Nigeria Series, 2016” re-imagined artists and members of the Yoruba religious community as the Orisa and other figures central to the Yoruba spiritual and philosophical tradition. The series explored divinity, spirituality and tradition by combining traditional and contemporary Yoruba weaving, carving, bead-working and “Adire” resist dyeing arts with western painting techniques. The work was the result of a nine-month artist residency in collaboration with Arts Connect International and artists at the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Osogbo, Lagos and Ogidi-Ijumu. It premiered in Boston at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in 2017.
Following on the heels of that show, Hamilton created “Itan: Part 1,” in 2017 — a graphic novel based on the oral literature traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa. This comic book is heavily influenced by Yoruba art and aesthetics, combining traditional West African textile and sculpture traditions with Western painting and illustration. Drawing directly from Ifa, the vast corpus of divination poetry used by the followers of the Yoruba Orisa traditions worldwide, Hamilton is relaying important narratives rooted in African thought in an accessible and contemporary format.
Soon after, Hamilton completed “Stitched Into Memory” in the latter half of 2017. This large-scale collaborative textile installation was drawn from traditional West African weaving, resist dyeing and embroidery traditions. It was also an arts education initiative, teaching ancient West African textile arts to Boston youth. Led by Hamilton, with the generous support of the New England Foundation for the Arts and in collaboration with the Friends of Fort Point, this project commemorated the historic and contemporary African Diaspora communities of Boston. It was presented at 290 Congress St. in the Atlantic Wharf building.