Creation Story: Siddartha Beth Pierce 

Artist, poet, educator

Why her work is intended to be a sensory experience: Pierce uses scented wax and rope to build organic sculptures over bases of welded iron. She invites viewers to touch and smell the pieces to understand their connection to memory and humanity. Some are fragrant with vanilla or baby powder, evoking links to her past, while perhaps stimulating similar recognition in others. "The olfactory sense can be a godly sense, associated with the universe and divine creation," she says. "These are pieces of divinity for me; they come from the sublime."

How her interest in the metaphysical informs her work in sculpture and poetry: "From everything that I have learned," Pierce says, "every culture has some form of honoring those who have gone before. It is important to recognize people who have helped you along the way, including ancestors, other philosophers and artists." Pierce marks significant personal losses by creating poems and spirit vessels, including a feathered bottle for her grandfather that, she says, gives wings to his soul. Named after her grandmother, Siddartha explores her name's meaning, the enlightened one, by delving into spiritual realms in her work and scholarly research.

When violence finds its way into art: Some of Pierce's works have startling imagery, including butcher knives thrust into "bleeding" boards or sculptures made of bullets found on the streets of Richmond. Rather than promoting shock value, these pieces and accompanying poems are statements against crime, and she hopes viewers will confront their fears and fight to survive. "When something is painful I don't shy away from it," she says. "I've had a great deal of physical pain, and I'm exploring that and turning it into something beautiful."

Why her work as a student and professor is enhanced by her role as an artist:

Pierce has taught African art history, computer graphics and survey courses at Virginia State University as artist-in-residence, and as adjunct faculty at Virginia Union University. "I tell [students] it's a matter of jumping in and letting go," Pierce says. "I do ask students to keep dream journals, to find materials even in the trash. You're on a fact-finding mission, you need to pay attention to the details. You're going to end up with something if you use your mind to create." She follows her own advice, and has constructed about 75 works with more in progress. "I'm a successful professor," she adds, "but, without this, it wouldn't be enough. It is a craving that has to be satisfied."

On whether critiques are useful: Pierce has experienced the art critique as both teacher and student. "Everyone has different ways of looking at things. It is a wonderful experience to have your students do their work and all of us explore it and speak about the work. I believe in honesty and truth, but also to be kind to one another, to give credit where it is due." On the other hand, when on the receiving end of critiques, "I like brutal honesty, but I get to a point where my work is finished, and I put it out there and people like it or they don't," she says. "I love to hear people's feedback. I'm a communicator. But I am busy, I have other things to create here." — Deveron Timberlake


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