Complex, visually sumptuous, and conceptually rich, Shawne Major’s hand-sewn mixed-media assemblages/drawings offer a striking critique of our object-obsessed culture. They inhabit the province of accumulationism, surplus, and overflow—baroquely ornate yet deeply skeptical of the Western conflation of material goods with moral or spiritual transcendence. With a fastidious attention to detail, Major creates tapestry-like tableaux from a panoply of disparate materials, among them costume jewelry, fabrics, plastic toys, ribbon, rope, shoelaces, shells, zippers, and Frisbees. She sews these media into substrates that have symbolically allusive associations—window screens, bridesmaid’s dresses, prom dresses—infusing the compositions with myriad layers of meaning. The metallic and faceted elements in some pieces catch the light and involve viewers directly in the works’ visual seduction. “I am interested in how people create their perspectives and filters for understanding their realities,” she remarks. “What do we value as humans and Westerners? The reflective surfaces bring the viewer into that dialogue.”
Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, Major is now based in Opelousas. She earned her B.F.A. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her M.F.A. from Rutgers University. Her work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and Hilliard Museum of Art, among others; and in prestigious private collections, including those of philanthropists Francis J. Greenburger and the late Frederick R. Weisman. Widely exhibited and enthusiastically reviewed in publications such as ARTFORUM, Art in America, ARTnews, and The Advocate, she has received artist grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and Joan Mitchell Foundation, where she was a 2016 artist-in-residence. In 2015 she was a resident fellow at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island, Florida. Major also exhibited in the 2008 iteration of the Prospect.1 New Orleans Biennial. The sheer density of her works’ surfaces rewards close inspection; from afar they present a more unified visual field, emphasizing a strongly linear quality. “I try not to let any one object dominate,” she says. “The works are a collection of objects, each having many connotations and often bringing up memories for viewers, but I am more interested in the work as a whole system."
Key themes have recurred in Major’s output across time: consumerism, disposability, perception, gender, and our increasing inurement to the visual glut so prevalent in mass media and digital technology. Inspired by artists such as Rauschenberg, Richard Pousette-Dart, Betye and Alison Saar, Louise Bourgeouis, and Kurt Schwitters, Major deploys the syntaxes of assemblage, bricolage, textiles, mixed media, and sculpture in ways that activate viewers’ capacities for association and projection. While she holds a post-ironic fondness for many of the objects she incorporates, she does not consider the artworks nostalgic. The specifics of her vocabulary may harken to a certain strain of bygone Americana, but as a totality the works function as abstract drawings or “filters wherein an adult has so much learned, inherited, and accepted expectations, it affects the way they frame their images of reality.”