We all need pure inspiration, those moments in life when we witness a performance, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of craftsmanship, a lecture that we will never forget. Such a source of pure inspiration for me is Sha Sha Higby . How to describe her? For me, she is a person who literally IS her art, the woman and what she does are inseparable. Her performance is moving sculpture that she wears—she calls it “costume art” and her jewelry pieces are small sculptures and both are so keyed to each other, you just know that the connection is not forced, that one is the natural outgrowth of the other. It makes me think of the jewelry of Alexander Calder which borrowed so much stylistically from his sculptures and mobiles.
When my sister, Bonnie, invited me to join her at a Sha Sha Higby performance as part of a San Francisco dance festival, I was less than enthusiastic. All I knew was that it was basically a woman divesting herself of a handcrafted costume to Indonesian music. For an hour. Ok, so she has also talked me into attending a bagpipe concert but that's another story. My sister has always been ahead of the cultural curve-- she was listening to Dave Brubeck as a freshman in high school, snuck out to one of the first concerts the Rolling Stones did in the US and was decorating with refurbished antiques as a young married mother in the late 60s. I accompanied her to the performance, which was in a small, intimate venue and it was mesmerizing-- I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time. I was calm, yet energized and full of wonder at the intricacy and complexity of Sha Sha's artistic vision and expression. Here's an excerpt from her Artistic Statement:
“I approach dance through the medium of sculpture. Using the painterly manipulation of physical materials and textures [that] I make--one by one--from wood, paper, silk, ceramic and gold leaf, interwoven with a labyrinth of delicate props, my work strives to create a path where movement and stillness meet. Shreds of memory lace into a drama of a thousand, intricate pieces; slowly moving, stirring our memory toward a sense of patience and timelessness. Every time we move about, the space around us is filled with drawings, colorful sketches and complex patterns. Our thoughts blend into the air and space about us.”
Sha Sha Higby - "Stone"
"With these 'costume sculptures', I want to show how we are embraced by the elegant complexity of the atmospheres about us. Emotions and thoughts cluster on the surface of our bodies and then break away, fly, and float off. Each bundle of emotion becomes yet another entity in itself, splitting into many facets again, and gathering, and returning again to their source.”
Sha Sha Higby - "Before Light"
Sha Sha Higby - detail of copper & enamel sculpture