Conducted by Meggie Royer, PD Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Lori Greene is an artist and small business owner whose artwork is in collections all over the world. Lori's mosaic panels are featured in the first U.S.-based permanent memorial to survivors of sexual violence, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1. You created the mosaic panels for the nation's first permanent memorial to survivors of sexual violence, located on Boom Island in Minneapolis. How would you describe the emotional, artistic, and/or physical process of creating the art for the memorial?
It took over a year to come up with a design for the memorial, and it was intensely emotional. At first I wasn’t sure where to start. I knew I wanted to have a figure curled up almost in a fetal position but I wasn’t sure what the background would be. At some point I realized that I needed to design from my personal experience, and from my own pain. In order to do this work, I needed to go deep into my grief. I needed to feel the fear, pain, and terror again. I started having nightmares and flashbacks again. Because of this, I was able to create the first two panels while reliving my own pain but, I was also able to bring beauty into the process. The panels convey my own personal story. When I was a teenager, I was winter camping with my friends and I was kidnapped by a man with a rifle. He held me captive for several hours. I was eventually able to escape, and I ran through the woods until I came to a clearing that overlooked Lake Superior. It was there that I remember being struck by the beauty of the lake, and the sun that was rising over the water. It was with that knowledge, the fact that I could still see beauty after all I had been through, that I knew I was going to be ok. When I was kidnapped I had been blindfolded, raped numerous times, choked, kit, and had my own life threatened. After all of that, I could still see beauty. This is also why nature is such an important component in this memorial.
Each panel was initially sketched repeatedly until the right design emerged. Once the designs were finalized as sketches, I then drew the entire piece to scale on large pieces of cardboard. I then painted the designs by the hand with the colors I intended to use. Painting the designs onto cardboard takes approximately a week per panel. After painting is completed, the cardboard panels are then cut up in the sections and made into what we call “mosaic sandwiches”, which is when we layer plastic and fiberglass mesh over the cardboard design, in order to start building the mosaic. We build the mosaic by hand-cutting pieces of tile and gluing them down onto the mess. The building of the mosaic can take approximately six weeks to make, working 40 to 60 hours a week.
When I started building the mosaic, I started to “turn it outwards” and think about all the people who were going to see it. I wrote a prayer that I would say while burning sage over the panel I was working on. Every single morning, I would say this prayer to all the pieces in the mosaic and to all the people who were going to see it. The mosaic changed- it was still about my story, but then it began to feel more like a gift I was making to everyone else. I was not preoccupied with the people viewing it so much as I really wanted to make sure they could feel it. I wanted to make sure they could feel the love and protection that I wanted these pieces to give them. I wanted the pieces to say I see you. I know you. I am here for you. It felt very different than anything else I ever made.
2. Your artwork is inspired by African and traditional Native American culture, which reflect your heritage. Your work also focuses on “strength, power, and memory.” Could you talk a bit more about what meaning heritage and memory hold for you, and why they are so integral to your artwork?
As a woman of color, I see few images in art that reflect me. Therefore, I often work to create images and stories of people of color -- their memories, their strength, and their power. As an art student, I was drawn to textiles because of their patterns, their colors, and their textures. But textile is more than those things; they embody history, culture, and the stories of the people who make and use them. Each pattern and each color has a meaning from the past, from a particular culture; it conveys an emotion, a link to something beyond the here and now, and the world we know.
The materials I use extend to almost any material that can be manipulated, altered, maneuvered or fused. Layers of material, of color, of texture bring to life the history, the power, the strength of men and women of color whose stories need to be told and thus, inform the rest of us. My work is guided by both the materials I use and the story that needs telling. It often flows from the intuitive process of putting together different pieces, different materials, different colors. I want people who see my work to appreciate the story it tells them, not necessarily the story I was telling. I hope people will see the past reflected in very contemporary work. It may tell them a different story than the one it told me and that is fine. I hope they are engaged enough by my work to see past the images, because I am creating objects that hold the memory of who I am.
3. The mosaic panels you created for the survivor’s memorial center the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples’ movement. What role do you believe artwork plays in highlighting this movement?
I cannot separate myself from my cultural heritage, therefore my artwork inherently reflects my experience as a woman of color, specifically as an Indigenous and Black woman. In the memorial I chose to represent not only women, but also men, people who are gender-fluid, and people of many different cultures and abilities because of course, sexual violence happens to people of all identities. I did, however, choose to specifically reference the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People movement with the main figure, a Native woman who in each of the five panels is wearing a red dress. This is in direct reference to the Red Dress Project which was an art installation first displayed in Canada.
4. What advice would you offer young female artists of color who are just beginning their creative journeys?
To young female artists of color - speak your truth. investigate every type of art, every type of material and experiment with everything. You will find your voice. Don’t give up, you are strong and courageous.
Lori Greene born in Minneapolis, MN has a BFA from California College of the Arts and an MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. Her art is in collections all over the world. She is also a mother of three and small business owner of the art studio Mosaic on a Stick. Known for her creativity and engaging style, she is able to engage individuals and groups to work collectively on community art projects. Is a recipient of two Bush Artist Fellowships, MN State Arts Board Cultural Community Partnership award, COMPAS Community Art Program Grant and Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Learning Grant. She has been recognized both for artistic work and community and cross-cultural efforts. Learn more about Mosaic on a Stick, and consider joining their Patreon.