June 19, 2016

6/16/2016 – Selective Memory with Tyanna Buie

Artist: Tyanna Buie

Location: Her studio (Russell Industrial)


TB & SRS – Homemade vegan macaroons

It is a great privilege to be acquainted with your own history. Print artist Tyanna Buie is frankly open about a childhood that she and her three siblings spent largely out of their mother’s care – looked after by relatives or dispersed among the foster care system. She manages to frame a rough upbringing with brightness and perspective; she is a person who has clearly done the work of being at peace with herself and circumstances beyond her control. Part of that work is artwork, and here you can see a real yearning for connection to personal and family history. A great deal of Tyanna’s work uses, as its base imagery, the very few pictures of her family that she was able to get her hands on. Some of these are the valuable cache of childhood photos in the care of the aunt who raised her and her siblings for a time – a rich vein of personal history that Tyanna had to bargain hard to borrow and scan. Another source has been the internet database of mug shots, which documents several members of Tyanna’s family and is the source of the only photo she has of one of her uncles. Tyanna places extreme value on these images, and it’s no wonder – it is easy to take family connection and access to memories for granted, if you happen to have grown up with it, but if you haven’t, it forms a kind of hunger at the deepest core of your identity. Lacking access to the full record of memories, Tyanna has begun to weave her own.


Whatever the source, once she has the images, they become a jumping-off point for astonishing and often large-scale screenprinted (or monotype) works on paper. Tyanna embraces the abstraction that can occur as the process of working ink through screens begins to elide fine details – her subjects never have facial features, but her backgrounds are rich with detailed motifs. As she sets down layer after layer of visual information, new elements are introduced. Tyanna alters people’s clothing, edits in objects that weren’t there before, or adds details lifted from photo-documentation of her errant mother’s vast collection of beauty accessories. Her edits and embellishments seems to reflect an emotional relationship with her subjects – Tyanna gives bouquets or headdresses of flowers to indicate affection, jewelry in veneration, but often comes up empty when it comes to clear identifiers.

“I would love to reconnect with all these people,” says Tyanna, of the subjects of Class Portrait (above), a large-scale work based on one of her own school portraits, currently on display at the Red Bull House of Art, part of 15 Steps – Perspectives in Drawing, curated by Tylonn J. Sawyer. “But I have no way of knowing how to get to them.”


For a 2013 installation, Upper Middle Class, Tyanna recast her family mugshots – lifted directly from the annals of correctional facilities, as well as predatory websites that catalog mugshots and will only remove them for a fee – as an ornately framed set of cameo portraits, of the type that might be seen on display in a well-to-do Victorian home. This is just one of many large-scale installations where Tyanna has created customized floor-to-ceiling prints to take up an entire space. There is a sense, perhaps, of owning a space to compensate for a former lack of permanence. The family home may have burned, taking with it a host of corroborating details and beloved possessions, but Tyanna can command entire galleries within hallowed institutions – she is taking her place in history, and bringing her family, in some abstracted or idealized form, along with her.

Because, if it’s any comfort, our curses are sometimes also our blessings. Having an indistinct history means there is room for revision. In one large-scale work Tyanna showed me, a woman places a beautiful flower-laden birthday cake before a child. This scene is lifted from a picture of one of Tyanna’s sister’s birthdays, but the cake is an embellishment from her imagination. Likewise, Tyanna augmented a rare portrait of her maternal grandparents to highlight their most outstanding qualities – her grandmother becomes a queen, her grandfather a military hero – though the underlying realities, disclosed only recently to Tyanna, are far more complicated than that. This revision, and the process of layering and patching together imagery, puts me very much in the mind of quilting – a tradition with a great deal of overlap, in terms of creating an organic and original historical record under fraught circumstances. Especially some of Tyanna’s recent works, which deal with very formal compositions, seem very much like quilts on paper.


Tyanna’s work is extremely dynamic and moving, with or without insight into the finer details of her history, and it’s exciting that we have her here in Detroit. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what a bright future Tyanna continues to make of her past.

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