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MICA Alumna: The jewelry and sculptures about racism and sexism that earned Joyce J. Scott a MacArthur “genius” award


September 24, 2016

A beaded necklace is an unlikely place to find a narrative about race, history, and slavery, says Lowery Sims, curator emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York. But that surprise factor is part of the allure of Joyce J. Scott’s art. “Technically it’s breathtaking, it’s intimate, it’s intricate—but it’s also a very powerful statement about the world and some of the issues we face as human beings,” Sims says.

Scott, 67, is an artist based in Baltimore, Maryland, best known for her jewelry and sculptures made from glass beadwork. Using a medium that has been pigeonholed as a handicraft for years, she makes grand artistic statements that usually address dark topics, including rape, violence, lynching, murders, and racism. Scott once remarked: “It’s important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and then carry something home, even if it’s subliminal–that might make a change in them.”

This week, Scott was selected to win  one of 23 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grants, which give each recipient $625,000, distributed over five years. The foundation praised Scott’s work, saying she is “repositioning craft, and in particular beadwork, as a potent platform for commentary on social and political injustices.”

The artist, who completed an undergraduate degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art, before getting an M.F.A. from the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, was also trained by her mother, Elizabeth T. Scott, a noted textile artist.