Susan kaplow: Artist Statement

In my previous work I used sheep and alpaca fiber to felt and sculpt organic shapes inspired by plants and the animal body. Most of these sculptures hang on the wall or sit on shelves attached to the wall. Looking back, I think I began in this way because felt is such a soft material. Unlike with wood, metal or ceramics, it’s not obvious how to make a felted form stand up in space.

Two years ago, when I began to reference the female body, I started with hand-felted fiber shapes that hang on the wall. I loved having so many embodied feminine archetypes lining my studio walls. After a time, though, my figures started to whisper to me: “take us out into space; let us stand on our own.” Making this happen presents technical and artistic problems, ones I am continuing to explore.

Because my own body has been twice challenged by breast cancer — once years ago and again most recently, I have made some of my newest sculptures bearing scars or missing breasts, playing against notions of bodily perfection and enlarging the definition of beauty. One example, pictured below, is the sculpture “I Can and I Will.” Through this practice, I have been investigating how power may grow from woundedness and healing arise from despair. My Breast Cancer Odyssey, a five part installation, charts my personal experience, my ongoing journey through sadness and anger toward acceptance and a deeper integration. Each part of my journey is written on the body, rendered in fiber and enhanced with beads, metal forms, digital images and clay.

 
“I Can and i will”, hand-felted fiber and mixed media, 21” x 6” x 4”

“I Can and i will”, hand-felted fiber and mixed media, 21” x 6” x 4”

"raised up", hand-felted fiber, mixed media, 24 x 16”

"raised up", hand-felted fiber, mixed media, 24 x 16”

 

Banned Bodies, one of my newest sculptures, is a response to the vicious treatment of those seeking refuge in our country. I bear witness to this treatment every week as I accompany undocumented and detained people to court as a volunteer for the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC. For this sculpture, I used a concrete and steel remnant of building material, which I found on the street, as a metaphorical ladder, the one our desperate, undocumented friends are trying to climb with all the odds stacked against them. 

“Banned Bodies," hand-felted fiber and mixed media, 33” x 15” x 7”

“Banned Bodies," hand-felted fiber and mixed media, 33” x 15” x 7”

 

Previous work