Say It Loud - a solo exhibition of new works by Detroit-based multi-disciplinary artist Tiff Massey - opens alongside Homemade as an amplification of the complexity of home, place and creativity. In contrast to the increasing number of artists that call Detroit their home, Massey was born and raised, receiving both her BA and MFA in the metro area. As her fellow grads left the city for opportunities elsewhere - and later arrived back from NY and LA - she stayed firmly fixed in Detroit. As a result, she has become a powerful and dedicated advocate of local talent and a voice against the rapid gentrification of its neighborhoods and creative culture.
Massey’s work ranges from wearable sculpture to large-scale public works and performance. She is the first African-American woman to graduate from Cranbrook Academy of Art’s MFA in Metalsmithing, and has been consistently influenced by 1980s hip-hop culture, African art and Japanese fashion. In creating pieces meant to be worn as well as large-scale jewelry and interactive works, she involves the viewer in their experience, bringing dialogue about space, the body, and racial and gender politics. For Say It Loud, she has created her most ambitious show to date that encompasses sculpture in a multitude of polished materials, as well as penetrating 2 dimensional textile works layering collage, gingham and Kente cloth.
Known for her work in metal and mirror, the inclusion of fiber may seem surprising; but producing so consistently with dense 3-dimensional surfaces has compelled her to create something tactile and pliable as a counterpoint. Though the material may be soft, the narrative isn’t. First drawn to pattern and stripe, she began researching the history of gingham: “I realized it had a political background, made from cotton manufactured with slave labor and then used to create uniforms or markers for slaves on plantations. Later it was a print for the working class and signified the domestic. You see appropriation of it everywhere. I can’t wear it anymore.” She sourced the fabric in a number of colors and began removing the white squares within the pattern as a way of reimagining a history without slavery, either sewing the remaining strips together or allowing a kente fabric to peak from beneath through the excavated squares. Others include collaged images of plantation workers layered on top of the pattern. Each has been framed in gold, bringing further distinction to the pieces and connecting them to what Massey is best known for - Bling.
The artist has long been inspired by 1980s hip hop and growing up in Detroit. Sheen and mirror image are prominent within her output, often creating an experience in which the viewer is forced to examine themselves in the work; “they are a part of it because their reflection is actually in it.” The exhibition space features reflective walls that are an ideal surface to hang her bricks and large-scale adornments, creating a magnified, disorienting encounter in which her sculptures are multiplied from all angles. As a metalsmith who began with jewelry, the forms in the exhibition simulate rings in steel and clay, and a brass necklace hangs at over 10 feet in length: “I’ve always been interested in scale and positioning myself within the realm of sculpture.” Massey names influences such as Issey Miyake and Nick Cave for their elevation of the body and the power that embellishment can carry in relation to physicality and movement.