Mallory Michelle Dover is a Kentucky-based artist who addresses themes ranging from black women's relationships with their hair to domestic violence with vibrant color and texture. Dover, who is currently an M.F.A. candidate at the University of Kentucky, says her work "is rooted in cultural acceptance, perceptions and identity. " Mallory has literally created her own universe, a language of elaborate shapes and symbols that are both eye-catching and thought-provoking. When she isn't teaching, Dover spends just about every waking moment hard at work in her studio, as she gears up for her M.F.A. Thesis exhibition, Strange Malaise, on April 2nd.
What was the inspiration behind your most recent body of work, The Angry Hair Series? What did you discover in the process of making and exhibiting this work?
My inspiration behind The Angry Hair Series came from personal experiences with relaxed and , along with the experiences of other women of African decent. At age 21, after 14 years of relaxing my naturally thick, , I cut it all off and began wearing it natural. I was angry with all the women in my life that encouraged relaxed hair and discouraged natural hair. After awhile, I realized that even with my hair in its natural state, I felt that similar need to always do something to it. In the Angry Hair Series, I include women with natural and relaxed hair. I also include expressions that don't look so angry at all to comment on how we often mask our true emotions because of social constructs.
While making and exhibiting this work, I discovered that the issue of is multi-layered. When older women see these paintings (i.e. my Gramma), there is a completely different discussion that occurs than when people in younger generations view them. With them, there is a stance that has been taking against natural hair that runs deeper than vanity, it is a means of protection. With these works, I leave traces of my actual thought process because of my desire to get people to talk about what is actually driving the need to permanently alter the natural state of their hair.
What was the inspiration for your extensive crocheted installations? What has the process of creating them been like?
My crochet installations are inspired by issues of domestic violence and family dynamics. The process is monotonous, yet comforting. Tedious and uncomfortable, yet familiar and necessary. Crochet for this project is ideal, to me, because it serves as an umbrella for emotions that run deep within the dynamics of family.
The wigs you create are colorful and very tactile. What inspired you to create wigs "no one would actually wear in real life"?
The Wigs are a direct result of the Angry Hair Series, haha. I was doing public projects and interviewing so many people about hair--people of all races, both male and female and realized that no one was satisfied with the hair they were born with. I had people draw their favorite hairstyle and not one person ever drew something the resembled what they already had. So these wigs were created by drawing from the imagination and asking the question, "How would you like to see yourself?"
What artist has been particularly influential to you and why?
There are so many artists that I enjoy, but I would say Chakaia Booker has been one of the most influential. I admired and met her when I was in undergrad and she is just amazing. The way she dresses is uniquely and is unapologetically her. I am also always drawn to artists that think outside of the box. I love materials that are clever, so automatically I am wooed by what she does with tires. Her sculptures have such presence. You have to see them in person-photos just don't do justice.You explore various aspects of African American culture in your work. What places and people have you drawn inspiration from?
I am very interested in African American history and varying family dynamics within this and other cultures. I draw inspiration from my grandmother and the older people in my family. I love listening to old stories-it's like a free history course. I also observe my own relationships with people-not limited to people of African decent-and am very much inspired.
You are currently working towards your MFA in Arts Education. Has working on art with young people influence your practice in any way? And what made you want to go into arts education?
I am currently a MFA candidate in studio art, although there was a period of time that I was going to get an additional degree (Masters in Arts Education). I am no longer pursuing that at this time but working with young people is still very important to me because these people need someone to help nourish their dreams. Working with young people has inevitably influenced my practice--I want to create work that inspires, encourages, informs, and transforms.
What is the legacy you hope to leave as an artist?
I want to make great art that opens the minds and hearts of all people. I want to make art that touches lives. That's the legacy I intend to leave as an artist.
Mallory Michelle Dover's MFA Thesis exhibition, Strange Malaise, opens April 2nd, 2010 at the Tuska Center of Contemporary Art on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. The reception is from 5-7:30 pm
For more on Mallory's work, check out her blog: http://mallorydover.blogspot.com/