The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts is pleased to present the work of artist Sandria Hu in Archeological Dress, on view from August 23 – December 13, 2014 in the Rebecca Cole Gallery. Hu is a Professor of Art at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including several Senior Fulbright grants to conduct work in the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Mexico.
Her exhibition at the Pearl features a series of collagraph prints and abstract paintings directly influenced by her experiences abroad. Using oil-based media in combination with found objects from archeological digsites, Hu explores the ideas of loss, identity, and ritual – ideas that transcend cultural and environmental boundaries.
Sandria Hu expounds upon the process and inspiration behind her Archeological Dress series of prints in the artist statement below, prepared by art writer Jake Eshelman. The artist will continue to add to the series as she travels to Xalapa, Mexico this October on a recently-awarded Fulbright grant, working alongside faculty members from the Universidad de Veracruzana at dig sites in Veracruz.
Artist Statement by Jake Eshelman
During her first Fulbright Professorship in 1986, Sandria Hu participated in archaeological excavations at Gerulata, the ancient Roman military camp near present day Bratislava. The experience was immediately transformative, as the team had just discovered the tomb of a little girl – her skeleton still intact.
In the following months, Hu got an intimate glimpse into daily life underneath the communist regime governing Czechoslovakia. For most citizens, the only way out of the country was to defect, knowing that it meant excommunication from friends and family who remained. International parcels were heavily monitored and often confiscated by the government, largely to cut off all correspondence to and from expatriates.
Despite being a US citizen, this procedural scrutiny also affected Hu. Shortly before returning home at the end of the semester, she was gifted a hand-embroidered christening gown that belonged to a little girl who had long since defected to the states. It was a gesture of deep gratitude on behalf of the girl’s parents, who had entrusted the artist with smuggling family heirlooms to their daughter living abroad.
It took several weeks for Hu to locate the little girl who had long since outgrown the gown. Their odd connection triggered a multitude of poignant memories for both women. Not surprisingly, Hu recalled the tomb at Gerulata; of a daughter rediscovered.
Drawing heavily from this experience, Hu’s current exhibition consists of 20 collagraph prints, each featuring a true to size impression of children’s christening gowns. Entitled “Archaeological Dress,” the series investigates ideas of loss, identity, and ritual. The artist begins by lowering each dress into a batch of gel medium, echoing elements of baptism. Once saturated, the garments are pressed flat to dry. After several repetitions, they harden into a rigid, two-dimensional printing plate.
Once the fabric is fully sealed, Hu painstakingly scours the surface of each dress with a toothbrush, much like an archaeologist would unearth an artifact. Yet instead of removing sediment, the artist applies a delicate layer of ink to the highly tactile gowns, capturing subtle nuances in texture and lingering memory.
In this sense, the series is very contemplative. What is the nature of objecthood and the latent emotional associations we attach to the inanimate? To what extent do ritual and tradition impact experience? What does it mean to conjure the vestiges of a previous life? It is with these questions in mind that “Archaeological Dress” investigates the liminal grounds between memory and identity; form and meaning; life and death.