|I, Sarah Liles, have divested myself of all names imposed upon me by the male social dominance and have freely chosen the name Sarah Joy for myself.
I am a womyn, an artist, an educator, an activist, an apprentice pipefitter. All of these elements of my personhood are integral to my art-making. Most of my art is autobiographical. Even before my work matured, I made art about how I was beginning to define myself in relation to the world around me. For example, the work I did as a teenager reveals my struggle to find my place in my family and to examine the values I was taught by my parents. One of my favorite pieces from that time is Untitled (The Hand). It represents my first efforts to convert original ideas into imagery. Moreover, my father was my model, and the painting communicates the struggle with religion that was so central to my concerns at the time.
Much of the work I do now is about my experiences as a feminist womyn (artist) in our society. In it, I explore myself as a powerful female in a culture whose structures for expressing and recognizing gender are stubornly dichotomous. In the United States, strength and power are masculinized. And the feminine is defined as weak, fragile, irrational. In my art and in my life, I challenge these understanding and offer alternative ways of knowing womynhood.
A couple of years ago, largely through my work at university studing urban art education, I began to understand myself as a white womyn in our society. As a result, I have started to explore issues of race in my work through collaborations with other artists and with my students. A notable example of this is the installation When I Look at You I See....
Although my formal education in the arts was largely representational, my work has recently become more abstract. I have come to rely more upon my informal training, especially the sewing skills my mother taught me a little girl, as I work out the issues of equity that are primary to my sense of self as artist and activist now.
Those who have influenced me come from divergent traditions and influence me in a number of ways. The writings and artwork of Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago, and Faith Ringgold have deeply affected me and the way I make art. Each of these wimmin creates out of her particular experiences and expresses a deep connection to her heritage. In addition to these artists, there are many people who have effected my thinking about art. Significant among these are John Berger (author of Ways of Seeing) Olivia Gude (writer, artist, art educator, teacher educator, and my mentor).
Finally, I strongly believe that one major role of the artist today is that of social healer. In this role, we must lay bare the ills of our society and promote positive alternatives to the status quo. In order to fulfill the potential of this role, I believe that we, as artists, must take steps to ensure that art is accessible to a varied and broad audience. By this, I do not intend that we should water-down our art, but rather that we should be always reaching out to the communities in which we make art. We should write, speak, teach about art in general and about our own work in particular. We should enable our potential audiences to understand and enjoy the work we make.
revised, sj, 2003