Charmaine Bee

Portal textile by Charmaine Bee, translucent tea bag papers stitched together with gold thread...
Charmaine Bee, Portal, 2023 (78 x 52 in. flat; 78 x 36 x 36 in. suspended). Photo: Evan Scott

Charmaine Bee: Marsh Ocean Portal

The Noguchi Museum Shop
January 24–February 4, 2024

The Noguchi Museum Shop is pleased to present Charmaine Bee: Marsh Ocean Portal, an installation of new works by the multidisciplinary artist Charmaine Bee. The works will be available for purchase exclusively from the Shop beginning January 24. 

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Charmaine, raised in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and based in Bahia, Brazil and Brooklyn, works in both visual arts and herbalism, using textiles, sound, video, movement, and writing. Their work connects geography and spirituality, finding the fibers between inner and outer landscapes. Collectively taken, their practice is a giving practice: they explore their own imagination and history, personal and ancestral, Black Diaspora and Gullah, transmuting their findings into skilled craft to provide space for others to do the same. 

Marsh and Ocean, made with hand-crocheted and hand-dyed cotton, are the first two in a series of five elemental dream blankets. They reference landscapes of importance to Charmaine: the shifting crystalline blues of coastal Brazil, the green-yellow melange of the tidal Carolinas. Weighted, they are meant to facilitate dreaming, to help guide the sleeper through their subconscious journeys. They connect directly to Charmaine’s other work with dreams, including their teaching of herbalism and their audio project, the dream suppport hotline.

As Marsh and Ocean inspire dreaming, Portal provides an accessway for daydreaming. Viewers can sit or lie underneath the cylindrical suspended textile, formed of hundreds of deconstructed cotton paper tea bags sewn together with gold thread, and allow the ephemeral space to guide them gently towards new internal states.

Taken together, the works show kinship with Noguchi’s interests in interactivity, traditional craft, the symbiosis of spaces real and imagined, and the exploration of personal and cultural history to project universal ideas. Coinciding with the final weeks of the exhibition A Glorious Bewilderment: Marie Menken’s ‘Visual Variations on Noguchi,’ they also complement filmmaker Marie Menken’s cinematic vision of the landscape of Noguchi’s 1940s studio—assembled or stitched from visual fragments. Like Noguchi’s works, these textiles open a path between the physical and metaphysical, what lies within and outside of the artist and the viewer. 

Charmaine writes:

“Within my work I explore the world of dreams, an ancestral technology, traversing geographic space and time and building bridges between them. I investigate the spiritual connections between Gullah (the culture I was raised in, which contains a creolized language and is mostly found within the Carolinas and Georgia) and Black Diaspora spirituality in Jamaica, Cuba, and Brazil. Dream spaces contain shared symbols that connect Black communities across the globe.

As a trained herbalist, part of my dream work is teaching workshops centered on the ways herbs can support dream remembrance and connecting with ancestral lineages within the dream world. I also explore the technology of the dream world through a radio project, the dream suppport hotline, where Black people can call into a radio show with dreams that they wish to have interpreted. I create a sound work that combines the calls, my interpretations, and music.

I create my Portal pieces by opening hundreds of tea bags and hand-sewing them together. Viewers can sit or lie under them and enter the work as a space of contemplation and reflection, a corridor from one space to the next.

This series of blankets are inspired by water, swamp, sun, ether, and wind, and are crocheted and dyed by hand using herbs, natural and fiber reactive dyes, on sustainably sourced cotton yarn. Each weighted blanket is made to support people in sleeping comfortably and swimming within their dreaming worlds. The hand dyeing, a combination of submersion and direct drawing, creates a soothing envelope, as if the sleeper is being held by a painting of the ocean or marsh. The work is materially based; I love working with foods like sugar and rice and plants like indigo, which have cultural significance within the Sea Islands, where I was raised.”

Charmaine Bee received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. They have been in residence at Pivô Art and Research, ACRE, Landing 3.0 at Gibney Dance, Five Myles Gallery, 18th St. Arts Center, and Fountainhead. They have received grants from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Puffin Foundation, and Brooklyn Arts Council, and have been nominated for the Rema Hort Mann LA Artist Grant. Through their formal training in herbalism, they teach workshops and create teas and herbal medicine.

Charmaine Bee: Marsh Ocean Portal is organized by Evan Scott, Director of Retail and Merchandising at The Noguchi Museum.

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