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Sharon Siskin

Residency Sites: Port Townsend, WA

My work comes from a belief that art can be a powerful catalyst for intellectual inquiry and social change. Conceptually, I draw from the personal, with the intention of making the ideas and issues public. Many of my projects—connected to AIDS, homelessness, incarceration, public education, gender, ethnic identity, Israel/Palestine, ecology, disarmament and social responsibility (to name a few)—are large-scale and difficult to clearly document in photographic images. In these projects I engage with communities, using the process and the final work produced as a forum for audiences to see and hear the voices from these communities. I am also interested in using my work as a vehicle that provides for a democratic forum to take place. While some of my work is community-based public art made in response to or in collaboration with historically under-represented communities, my studio-based work is more object-oriented and meant to be seen in more intimate, even domestic spaces.

As my social practice engages with local communities and local ecologies, my studio work synthesizes these experiences to create other modes of inquiry and new ways to make these experiences visible. Over the years my work has addressed issues of memory, loss and grief as well as humor, community-building and social action. In the fertile ground of these community-based experiences, my ideas germinate and my work as an artist takes root. This social engagement informs the formal quality of my work and brings into focus appropriate public spaces to present projects and engage audiences.

My studio-based work, based in private experience, has more recently become an installation of objects made from the detritus in my daily life as a parent of twin daughters. In this work, the cultural memories of our childhood become the everyday tools we hold in our hands to get us through the day (or sleep-deprived nights.) These pieces address the maintenance work involved in being a parent with the environmental ethic of “reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.” They examine the hourly repetition of seemingly mundane activities, building bridges of dialogue to audiences by using humor to expose the commonality of our private lives.

My work in the private space of my studio and the public sphere of the community have both continued to enrich and inform my work with students in the classroom and beyond.

I have been exhibiting my work in museums, galleries and public sites for more than 30 years and have been the recipient of awards and grants that include a Visual Arts Fellowship from the California Arts Council in 2003, the 2001 Potrero Nuevo Prize, Noetic Arts Program Community Grant, San Francisco Arts Commission Market Street Art in Transit Commission and 12 California Arts Council Artist in Residence Grants for community-based public art projects in the San Francisco Bay Area AIDS support service community and in the City of Berkeley homeless women and children services community. I have had the great pleasure of working as the Artist in Residence at San Francisco Recycling & Disposal, Inc. in the summer of 2004.

My artwork has been featured in publications that include Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at an Essential Quality (2007), by J.Ruth Gendler; Women Artists in the American West (2003), edited by Susan Ressler, Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997), by Lucy Lippard, Connecting Conversations: Interviews with 28 Bay Area Women Artists (1988), edited by Moira Roth and Site to Sight, Mapping Bay Area Visual Culture (1995), edited by Lydia Mathiews.

I have taught for 5 years as an Assistant Professor as a member of the full-time faculty at University of San Francisco and for 18 years as Core Faculty and Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Department of Arts and Consciousness at John F. Kennedy University and California College of Arts and Crafts, San Francisco Art Institute, California State University at Hayward and the University of New Mexico as well as at several California Community Colleges. I am the founder of Positive Art in 1988, an art project in the Bay Area AIDS community continuing to provide a model for many communities internationally. Since 1996 I have served as a board member of WEAD (Women Environmental Artists Directory). I have lectured extensively in art colleges, universities, professional conferences, galleries and museums throughout the United States and recently, have begun to publish articles that I have written about my community-based practice and teaching.

My work as a community-based art professor is featured in a new book entitled Outside the Frame: Teaching Art for Social Change, by Beverly Naidus, published by New Village Press in 2009. My studio artwork will be featured in the artist pages in The Contemporary West, Weber State University Literary Journal, Ogden, Utah in 2009 and in a book about contemporary political and social practices in the arts by Seattle-based art writer Susan Platt, entitled Art and Politics Now: Cultural Activism in a Time of Crisis. I am also included in a book in progress entitled Singers of Tales: Documenting the Work of Women Environmental Artists, by Anna Clarke and Elizabeth Pasterfield-Li.

Educational Background:

MFA in Painting and Scuplture, University of California at Berkeley; MA in Painting and Drawing, University of New Mexico; BFA in Painting and Drawing, Tyler School of Art, Temple University.