Artist finds new things to say in familiar ways for new exhibition

For a decade or so, it's been the face that has been at the center of April Sunami's art-making. Each work begins with one, whether found or friend or family member, and provides a reference point that informs the remainder of the work to come.

“The face is the foundation. It determines where the rest of the conversation is going to go,” Sunami said. “It determines the color palette, then [the] collage elements, then the mixed media.

“When I first [made paintings focusing on a face], I made two paintings similar to this style … maybe in '04 [or] '05. It was just something that really spoke to me, where I felt like I stumbled upon something that would be meaningful to me. I've been doing this ‘woman and hair' and ‘woman and body covering' thing for a decade now. It has helped me continue to develop the subject matter, which has been fundamental, because the subject matter has become a framework for me to discuss other things that are important to me. As I keep going along I keep finding more ways to say things in my work. But I never have any answers. It's always questions.”

Initial works in this vein were, Sunami said, flat and two-dimensional — acrylic on canvas only. As she has continued to explore this environment, her works have grown to include collage elements, often featuring found materials.

“I'm a little bit of a hoarder,” Sunami said with a laugh. “I keep things and collect things and I find a new use for them. I have to give some deference to Aminah Robinson here. I'm not the first person to do this. I saw how she could take something everyday, mundane, and I've been extending and working off of that.”

More recently, Sunami's work has explored the African diaspora, with a particular concern for history and cultural preservation. One piece in “From the Depths,” titled “Nzinga,” is a tribute to Queen NzingaMbande, a 17th century African leader.

Sunami said that her use of the cowry shell also speaks to the preservation of culture and religion “that has survived the transatlantic slave trade to exist here in a completely new context.”

“People ask, ‘Is there ever going to be a time you don't do women and hair or this particular subject matter?'” she said. “And I think, yeah, there will come a day, but I still haven't said everything I want to say with it. I still have some exploring to do.”