There’s a fierceness to Michaela Pilar Brown’s art and person that’s difficult to deny, and just as difficult to untangle.
From surreal self-portraits that explore the corporeality of the black female body to evocative, often abstract installations that thread A-frame model houses, yarn, cloth, wood and nails into layered material explorations of both personal and cultural histories, the 48-year-old’s work does heavy conceptual lifting on race, gender and sexuality alongside time, memory and physical space. She moves deftly from mode to mode, shifting from performance art and installation to paint, sculpture and photography while maintaining the searching, penetrating themes that have defined her work since the beginning.
Brown, whose family goes back generations in South Carolina but who grew up in Denver as the youngest of five in a military family and later attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., before moving back South to take care of family, has steadfastly carved out a living as an artist almost in spite of her provocative, concept-heavy approach.
She shows her work frequently both nationally and internationally, winning fellowships and residencies with regularity. At this April’s Indie Grits festival in Columbia, she was part of the leadership team that organized the Two Cities art projects aimed at exploring the racial and socioeconomic factors impacting our city. Just a few weeks later, she nabbed the $50,000 grand prize at Lake City’s renowned ArtFields festival, a win that cements her reputation as one of the finest artists working in the state today. And next month, she heads to New Zealand as one of the inaugural artists for the Volcanic Residency at the Whakatāne Museum.