Pamela Council

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Artist Statement

I make sculptures, prints, and performances that transform materials. I’m interested in how we soothe, protect, fashion, and enhance ourselves.

I’m interested in things like the preciousness of the human body, Black Girl Magic, protective styles, domesticity, Americana, legacies of trauma, reframing history, the textures of pleasure, black humor, and prosperity gospel.

I manufacture my own materials like velvet and clay, and combine them with mass-produced products related to self-soothing and bodily comfort. These include sneaker rubber, beauty products, backscratchers, and crackpipes. I freestyle with these; telling stories, making dedications, and leaving evidence.

The Velvets are a product of catharsis. I design them like figures, each representing a particular person or spirit, and I hang them with items that could soothe or empower that individual, self-soothing tools. These gestural sculptures serve as placeholders for the people I’m thinking about. I use the devoré process of acid burning drawings into the nap of velvet, then ironing to char the nap, and brushing the surface away. I see this as a way of transferring trauma and releasing it through the material. It reminds me of a bad hair relaxer flaking up the scalp. The images and words left are the thinned out skin of the velvet which allow light to pass, an effect I call the Shine Thru.

In one VelvetBead Party, I use pony beads, which are used in “protective” hairstyles on Black women and girls. Here I consider both the language and function of the armor-like adornment of Black femininity. In other works, like Flo Jo World Record Nails, I investigate this theme more explicitly. Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner was an American Olympian who set the record for the 200M race in 1988 in Seoul. She brought exuberant American fingernail styles to the world stage, a symbol of black power and self-efficacy. I studied her manicure (which she did herself) and hand-painted 200 replicas of it (2000 acrylic fingernails), forming those nails into a futurist sculpture in the form of a scaled down 200M track that serves as a monument to her speed, style, and grace.

Flo Jo, like so many, died young and with conflicting stories surrounding her death; this kind of traumatic grieving led me to perform Is Your House In Order?in which I hold conversations about writing wills and preparing for one’s death. During the most recent performance, I stood at an ironing board and ironed velvet and brushed away the nap to reveal the words of my devoré Velvet Will. These themes of legacy and transition also arise in my Sweet Graceperformance, a silent parade which honors the lineage of stylish civil rights leaders cum prosperity preacher showmen.

In Ringholders, I think about the symbolic social and bodily transactions of another rite of passage, with surreal fleshy dollmakers-clay forms placed on engagement ring displays. In some Ringholders, as well as the base of Stuck at Mashashimuet Park and the bricks of I’m Still Here and wtf is juice, I use sneaker rubber. A recovering sneakerhead, I once worked in the footwear industry and spent months in sneaker factories in Vietnam learning how to construct shoes. The sneaker has complex cultural meanings, and my factory experience added another layer. It changed how I understand the notion of the “handmade”. Most shoes are made entirely by hand, yet designed to hide the mark of the maker. After seeing so many women contributing to the handcraft of each product, creating algorithms for production that reveal the traces of my hand and touch became a critical part of my art-making process. That’s why I choose sensitive materials like Velvet.

In my newest works, I am thinking about themes of protecting play, protective hairstyles, and the notion of being “tenderheaded,” an epithet used to describe scalp sensitivity to having one’s hair combed. I am interested in the connections between these issues, virginity, the myth of Persephone, and disappearing and over-punished black girls. However, rather than approach this in a didactic way, I continue to explore these issues through material manipulation, iconic references, style, and humor. I have begun to use fountains in order to transition the work from the scale of the body to the scale of architecture while still maintaining the tacky-luxe spectacle that I know and love. As I continue to make material-rich works around these notions, I hope to move towards more architectural installations and larger scale projects that serve as a fertile ground for performance and movement.


2014 MFA in Visual Art, Sculpture, Columbia University, New York, NY
2007 BA with honors in Studio Art, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
2010 Footwear Product Creation Functional Trainee Program, adidas, Canton, MA & Vietnam
2006 Pre-Architecture Program, DIS, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006 Williams College Textile & Dance winter study, Accra, Ghana


2017-18 Galveston Artist Residency (forthcoming)

2017 Rush Artist-in-Residence, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation
Wassaic Artist Residency

2016 Mana Contemporary, Mana BSMT residency

2015 Catwalk Artist Project residency
Watermill Center International Summer Program

2012 Wassaic Artist Residency

Awards & Fellowships

2014 Toby Devan Lewis Award
Municipal Art Society of New York Teaching Fellowship

2013 Neiman Fellowship, Columbia University

2012 Joan Sovern Sculpture Award, Columbia University

Selected Exhibitions

2017 Tenderheaded (forthcoming residency culminating solo exhibition), Rush Arts Gallery, New York
URe:AD Press in Cleveland , SPACES, Cleveland, OH
Harlem: Found Ways , The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
March Madness , Fort Gansevoort, New York, cur. Hank Willis Thomas & Adam Shopkorn
Public Access/Open Networks, BRIC Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
i found god in myself (traveling), Houston Museum of African American Culture, Houston, TX

2016 Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter, New Museum, New York, NY
i found god in myself (traveling) , African American Museum in Philadelphia, PA
Present Futures , Denny Gallery, New York, NY
Memory Room , Outpost Artist Resources, Queens, NY
March Madness, Fort Gansevoort, New York, cur. Hank Willis Thomas & Adam Shopkorn
tinydrink at Beverly’s, Material Art Fair, Mexico City

2015 Salon Style , Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

2014 Harlem Postcards (commission), Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
i found god in myself (commission) , Schomburg Center for Research, New York, NY
Re: Purpose, MoCADA at Five Myles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
MFA Thesis Show , Fisher Landau Center, Queens, NY
Shrink It Pink It , Cathouse Funeral gallery, Brooklyn, NY
United Against Speculation, cur. Tomas Vu & Rikrit Tiravanija, Neiman Gallery, New York, NY

2013 Art-in-Buildings(solo), Time Equities West 10th Window, New York, NY
Homeward Found, Maxon Mills, The Wassaic Project, Wassaic, NY

2010 Balls: Ordering Black Maleness, Pill House, Minneapolis, MN
Mahogany Dew II , Southampton Historical Museum, Southampton, NY
Five From Providence, Bannister Gallery, Providence, RI

2008 Unchained Legacies , Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA

2005 mot I/O n , Flashpoint Gallery, Washington, DC


2016 Is Your House In Order? (solo), Black Art Incubator, Recess, New York, NY
My Pussy Is Not a Sandwich (solo), 5th Sandwich Club Summit, Wassaic, NY

2014 Sweet Grace (solo), VOLTA NY, New York, NY
Is Your House In Order? (solo), MoCADA at Five Myles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Bartertown , Heather Hart Experience & Dumbo Arts Festival, Brooklyn, NY
Bartertown , Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Sweet Grace (solo) , The Wassaic Project Summer Festival, Wassaic, NY

2005 God’s Trombones with Sankofa, dir. Craig T. Harris, Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA

Talks, Presentations, Panels, Workshops

2017 Panelist, “Open Access/Public Networks” programming, BRIC Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Visiting Artist, lecture series & studio visits, Wassaic Project, Wassaic, NY
Instructor, Pamela Council’s Nail Art Party! class, Abrons Art Center, New York, NY
Juror, Scholastic National Art Award

2016 Panelist, Eph in the Arts, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Panelist, TransBorderArt television program: “Objecthood”, Brooklyn public television, NY
Visiting Artist, SVA MFA Fine Arts, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Panelist, “Artisan Series: Art & Politics”, Rush Arts Gallery, New York, NY
Panelist, “i found god in myself” panel, African American Museum in Philadelphia, PA
Instructor, Pamela Council’s Nail Art Party! class, MaxFunCon, Pocono, PA
Open Crits at Black Art Incubator with Thomas Lax, Recess, New York, NY
Open Crits at Black Art Incubator with Jessica Lynne & Jessica Bell Brown, Recess

2015 Panelist, Hip Hop Research Lab, Bronx, NY

2014 Session host, “Is Your House In Order? B.A.R. Edition,” Black Artist Retreat, Chicago, IL
Panelist, “ Works in Progress: Artist & Art Historians Present,” Department of Art History, Columbia University, New York, NY
Panelist, “Re: Purpose artist talk,” MoCADA at Five Myles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Professional Experience

2013-2017 Media Assistant & Studio Assistant, Sanford Biggers / Maren Hassinger, New York, NY
2015-2017 Program Coordinator, MFA Fine Arts Department, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
2014-2015 Teaching Artist, BRIC, Municipal Art Society, & St. John’s University, Brooklyn, NY
2012-2013 Teaching Assistant (Sculpture 1, Sculpture 3), Columbia University, New York, NY
2008-2012 Sneaker Product Developer, Reebok, Canton, MA
2011 Teacher/Mentor, Sister2Sister Sneaker Design workshops, Boston, MA
2008 Film Festival Intern, Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN
2007-2008 Merchandise Planning Business Analyst, Target Corporation, Minneapolis, MN

Rodney, Seph. “A Sports-Inspired Exhibit That’s Not Quite a Slam Dunk”. Hyperallergic. 25 April 2017. Web.

Saltz, Jerry. Things to Do: “March Madness”. New York Magazine. 2 April 2017. In print and web.

Scott, Andrea K. ““March Madness” in the Meatpacking District.” New Yorker. 10 April 2017. In print and web.

Vogel, Wendy. “Critics Pick: March Madness.” Artforum. 24 March 2017.

Evans, Dayna. “What Does It Mean To Be a Woman In Sports?” New York Magazine: The Cut. 20 March 2017. Web.

“ Memory Room Catalog.” 2016.

Sheena, Tara. “The Tragedies and Triumphs of American Athletes of Color.” Hyperallergic. 21 April 2016. Web.

The Tragedies and Triumphs of American Athletes of Color

Palmer, Lauren. “20 Emerging Female Artists to Keep On Your Radar.” artnet. 9 December 2015. Web.

“Women’s Issue.” Gigantic Magazine . 28 July 2015. Web.

Krug, Simone. “Salon Style.” Brooklyn Rail . 3 June 2015. Web.


Keck, Catie. “Pamela Council Brings Flo-Jo’s World Record Nails to the Studio Museum and it’s Pretty Awesome.” BUSTLE . 21 March 2015. Web.

Ringle, Hallie. “Salon Style.” Studio Museum in Harlem Studio Magazine. Winter/Spring 2015. Print.

“Harlem Postcards.” Studio Museum in Harlem Studio Magazine. Winter/Spring 2015. Print.

Alexis Garrett Stodghill. “Harlem artists team up for new Schomburg exhibit honoring the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s poetic monologues.” New York Daily News . 13 October 2014. Web.

Apogee Journal, Issue 03. Spring 2014. Photos of work featured.

Wright, Peter Souleo. “40 amazing black artists to watch in 2014.” . 3 January 2014. Web.

Council, Pamela. “Artist Project: Tumbleweaves.” interventions: the online journal of columbia university’s graduate program in modern art: critical and curatorial studies , Volume 3, Issue 1: Mediascapes and Connectivity. 7 November 2013. [Published writing]

“5 Reasons Nails Are Suddenly in the Spotlight”, NAILS Magazine: The Big Book 2012-2013 , 2013. 20.

“Flo Jo World Record Nails: An Olympic-Inspired Nail Project.” NAILS Magazine . 17 September 2012. Web.

Galardi, Susan M. “Exhibit of Local African-American Artists.” Dan’s Papers. Sept. 17, 2010. 33-34. Print