Susannah Israel is an artist-activist in east Oakland, California. Her practice is anchored in figurative sculpture, and her intention is to provoke responses of recognition and reflection. The challenges and changes faced by people in her community, and around the nation, inform both themes and iconography in Israel's sculptures. Sculptors have been culture keepers across time and around the world, says the artist, and my work seeks to provide such a record.
The plastic arts compelled Israel from an early age; she made huge, fantastical snow characters each winter and used wet sand in summer. Her mothers introduced her to clay as a teenager. The figure emerged as an actor, narrator, and symbol, and clay's expressive possibilities inspired life in sculpture. Factory residencies and cited commissions provided opportunities to engage with the people and history of those sites. In the studio, Israel created allegorical narrative figures, and persistent themes emerged. Figures/landscapes derive from a personal relationship with place. Themes of celebration and ritual, resistance, community, and creative collaboration appear consistently over the years.
Israel’s work has developed urgency and force in the last 3 years, responding to COVID isolation (she was quarantined for 10 months) and the growing socioeconomic fractures that continue to threaten the most vulnerable among us. We need every voice raised up, says Israel. With the language of sculpture, she issues a call for action.
My current artwork combines sculpture, printmaking, and sound. I am using interference patterns, a technique from printmaking, to visually confront the audience and bring their attention to the underlying issues in the work. The Asphalt & Honey project is an art intervention in the manner of Luiseño artist James Luna. The bodies I construct are architectonic representations of their environment, which is represented graphically upon their skins. Asphalt is the surface upon which we land, hard; honey is the sweetness of passion and the beauty of sunset through razorwire. The project is a sculptor's journal of life in the postindustrial corridor that borders Oakland's Fruitvale district.