‘Shreds of the Same Memory’: Watch Tau Lewis Turn Scraps of Fabric Into Elaborate Soft Sculptures

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the “New York Close Up” film “Tau Lewis: Shreds of Memory.” © Art21, Inc. 2023.

Brooklyn-based artist Tau Lewis is a scavenger of treasures, amassing heaps of recycled materials that she deftly reconstitutes into new art works.

In an exclusive new interview filmed as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, Lewis works in her Brooklyn studio creating soft sculptural masks that recall the ceremonial African masks used “directly in the process of communicating with a spirit or a God or sometimes an ancestor.” 

Shot on 16-millimeter film, the documentary-style interview gives viewers a lens into the self-taught artist’s creative process as she works to give new life to discarded fabric and objects, preserving the memories inherent in the fibers. “We use every scrap of fabric” she explains, adding that every scrap “has character, it’s mysterious… each new sculpture has a piece of an older one embedded in it. They share shreds of the same memory and the same truth.”

For Lewis, the act of repurposing works is rooted in the tradition of Black creation, which she says “is an upcycling, regardless of an access to.” Making do with what is at hand, “taking things as they are and making them shine.”

Just as members of the Yoruba tribe infused their ritualistic masks with a spirituality, Lewis believes in the lived experience of her materials, which are passed on to her newly crafted works. The masks are both contemporary and historical works: “They’re now contributing themselves in a different form and this is really wonderful.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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