Pamela Council ’07, a 2022 Bicentennial medalist, discusses Black Joy, strength and healing, and the path from studio art major to exhibitions in Times Square.
“Anyone who knew me at Williams knew me as ‘the sneaker girl.’”
So says Pamela Council ’07, a studio art major who spent a lot of time exploring the cultural impact of fashion, including the design and marketing of sneakers. Captivated by these everyday objects—a staple in virtually every person’s wardrobe—they were the subject of Council’s senior thesis. After Williams, Council worked in product development for Reebok while also pursuing their passion for creating art. “Through the sneaker,” Council says, “I’ve really learned how to look at an object from every possible angle.”
Today Council is best known as an artist whose work combines the disciplines of sculpture, architecture, writing and performance. Material culture permeates throughout their art, incorporating items such as acrylic nails, hair lotion and rhinestones—materials that they say celebrate Black joy and are used to help others find strength and healing in traumatic times. “That’s the whole thing with this restorative, reparative work,” Council says. “You want to be able to reconcile with history without re-traumatizing people. I’m also having a lot of fun, which is kind of like the ethos of my work.”
Council, one of six alumni to receive a Williams Bicentennial Medal for distinguished achievement in September, shared their insights with Williams Magazine about a handful of their artworks, including their first-ever public installation in New York’s Times Square.
Relief (a series). 2021. Silicone tiles on wood panel in artists metal frame. 36 x 72 in. Relief debuted with Council’s 2017 solo exhibition at Rush Arts Gallery in NYC.
Photo: Julie Deamer
“I work a lot with molds using prosthetic silicone—the gummy stuff that if you were shooting a film you would use to make a witch’s nose out of—and sculpting these different tile patterns. I’ve been using the texture library I have from the time I worked at Reebok. I’m really interested in parquet; the pattern reminds me of sports. These relief tiles make me think of my lifelong relationship with sneakers and also with mapmaking and ideas of travel and topographies. So, this work is really a topographical exploration. I’ve been working on these molds since 2017. About twice a year I add a new batch of patterns, and eventually I’ll have this giant lexicon of patterns.”
wtf is juice/gw smile. 2016. Sugar, water, purple, Listerine, George Washington’s raggedy ass enslaved peoples’ teeth dentures, gold party foil, Grapeade cans, lights, fountain, silk velvet with surface devoured by the artist. 65 x 100 x 48 in.
Photo: Pamela Council
“This is my first official Fountain for Black Joy. It’s a party punch bowl filled with purple Listerine and grape drink. Sitting on top of the pedestal is a photo collage of George Washington’s dentures, covered with this velvet drape that’s been treated through an acid process that eats away at the nap of the velvet. George Washington’s dentures, which were made from the teeth of humans and other animals, are in the archives of Mount Vernon. So I’m thinking about this archival object that belongs to all of us. And I’m thinking about our collective tooth and nutrition history—the differences in what Black kids consume and this idea of drink versus juice.”
A Fountain for Survivors. 2021. 400,000 acrylic nails, dense foam, resin, steel, paint, water, Wishing Wafers, interior and exterior lighting, music, heaters, swarovski crystals, rhinestones, wampum. The work was commissioned by Times Square Arts.
Photo: Michael Hull
“When I started to do research on what I could make and thinking about Time Square history, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘OK, we’re in a pandemic, I need to make something for all of us.’ It was a little more than a year into the pandemic, and if we’ve made it this far we can all identify as survivors, even if we hadn’t beforehand. Of course, many of us already considered ourselves survivors, but I thought this was a great moment to welcome people into this new identity. And I thought that I could do that by working with this material from my visual language: acrylic nails.”
Talking Hands: Watch My Hands, Don’t Watch Me. 2021. Three-minute, four-channel video installation in Times Square. The work was commissioned by Times Square Arts.
Photo: Anna Harsanyi
“This video piece was part of Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment, the world’s largest and longest-running digital public art program. It allows artists to take over commercial screens in Times Square with a three-minute-long artwork at midnight every night for a month. I worked closely with curator Anna Harsanyi and this awesome LA-based influencer named Amber Wagner. She’s known for doing these motivational talks, moving her hands with her iconic, super long nails. It’s hypnotizing and inspiring. The idea for the videos came from thinking about leisure and different ways for her to luxuriate on camera. So we’ve got fruit, we’ve got lotion, we’ve got combs—things you fiddle around with during a phone call to your friend. That makes some really juicy images.”
To learn more about Pamela Council, visit www.pamelacouncil.com.