Makia Sharp seeks authenticity through the interdisciplinary exploration of light, slowness and still life
January 28, 2019
Makia Sharp had completed only one semester at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) when she was hit by a car. Consequently, she had to return home to Utah to undergo surgery and take time to recover, while remaining enrolled in a rigorous graduate program. The accident was a significant turning point for Sharp as an artist. She returned to RISD after two short months.
“At first I questioned whether or not I should go back [to school] so soon after my surgery, but I felt like I needed to,” Sharp said. “I decided if I was going to go back, I was going to make work that I cared about and I felt strongly about.”
Sharp’s injuries hindered her ability to make art in the way she was used to. Hours in her studio were spent simply staring out her window, observing time pass. As she contemplated mortality and physical limitations, she turned toward the still life tradition for symbols to use in her artwork. Sharp embraced slow work as she photographed the same arrangements of fruit and flowers every day, capturing their decay over time.
During this period, Sharp began to explore possibilities for preserving flowers, which led her to make work for her final critique of the year, “Still Life.” Sharp described this body of work as the best thing she made her whole first year at RISD. “It opened up a whole new trajectory for me,” she said.
In contrast to her work in “Still Life,” Sharp said the work from her first semester at RISD lacked some authenticity. At the time, she missed home and felt out of place in the sculpture program, for which she was not technically trained. Since she had focused on photography and new genres as an undergraduate, Sharp’s sculptural background at the time was rooted in personal experience and making.
“I felt pressured to try a lot of different things and to push my work in a direction that didn’t feel quite authentic, trying to fit into this sculpture world,” Sharp said.
In retrospect, Sharp sees connections between her early graduate work and later work. Similar to “Still Life,” “Trying to Know Something” was an attempt to capture personal feelings about longing and the past, with multiple works in a space, but Sharp was not as happy with the results.
Not until she let go of her beliefs about what others thought or expected of her was Sharp able to make work she truly cared about, that was also better received by others.
“I had to learn which voices and which critiques and suggestions I was going to intake and which ones I was going to learn to disregard,” Sharp said. “I had to realize I was there for myself, not to please anybody or to prove myself.”
Sharp’s work has shifted since her first year of graduate school three years ago, but some common themes still pervade her work—slowness, still life and use of natural light, for example.
Discussing slowness in her work, Sharp said she is interested in asking nothing and everything of the viewer at the same time. “I’ve made videos that are an hour long, where something goes from in focus to out of focus in that time period,” Sharp said. “For someone who chooses to stay with the video for 30 minutes, versus someone who stays with it for 30 seconds, that’s a hugely different experience.”
For Sharp, slowness serves as a tool to mirror everyday phenomena that exist whether or not they are interacted with. “Like when light hits the wall,” Sharp said. “It’s this cinematic thing that happens every day, and it happens whether or not we notice it. Deciding to stop and notice it gives a very different result.”
More recently, Sharp has delved further into forms and approaches to creating that she started exploring her first year in the sculpture program. Specifically, she aims to blur the boundaries between sculpture and photography.
“What I’ve been trying to do is break away an image or an object from its traditional form—like a photograph existing as a framed print or mounted on the wall—and to destabilize that and question what makes up an image,” Sharp said.
Design (AICAD), is available to master’s level students of color who are nominated by the institution from which they receive their graduate degree. Sharp is one of 14 current AICAD fellows throughout the nation. At the conclusion of her fellowship, Sharp will pursue a full-time teaching position with a university or college.