Translating to “the voice of the people is the voice of god,” Vox Populi, Vox Dei is artist Tau Lewis’s reimagining of historic systems and principles. The Latin phrase is often associated with the British Whig party and the establishment of secular democracies throughout Europe, although Lewis hones in on the saying’s lingering religious reference as she envisions enormous characters who’ve emerged from an apocalypse.
Six sculptural masks populate the gallery at 52 Walker for the artist’s ongoing solo show, which explores what she describes as “the incapacity of humankind to create structures of law, principles of morality, or hierarchies of government without a reliance on the imaginary.” The monumental works, the largest of which stands upwards of 13 feet, meld classical myths, contemporary science fiction, and the dramatic performances associated with Yoruban masking traditions. Focused on the idea of transformation following destruction, the collection engenders a joyful, hopeful outlook.
Born in Toronto and now based in New York, Lewis’s world-building is unique and particularly expansive as it connects myriad bodies of work: each character within Vox Populi, Vox Dei contains fragments of the artist’s earlier projects, engendering what she terms a “material DNA” that courses throughout her oeuvre. In a similar vein, the sculptures pay homage to the legacies of the fabrics themselves. The artist stitches salvaged textile scraps, donated leather, and remnants from a Long Island furrier into patchwork eyes and lips, tousled hair-like fringe, and vibrant floral tendrils that dangle and pool on the floor. Otherworldly and imposing, the works are totems for an imagined future.
If you’re in New York, you can see Vox Populi, Vox Dei through January 7, 2023, and Lewis’s work is also included in Black Atlantic, which is up at Brooklyn Bridge Park through November 22. Explore more of her genealogical archive on her site and Instagram.
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