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Conflicting Truths: Works by Melissa Joseph

March 8–April 8, 2023
Conflicting Truths: Works by Melissa Joseph     

Made possible by the Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist Fund

Artist's talk: Thursday, March 16, 4:30 PM, LPAC Cinema. Gallery reception follows from 5:30-7:00 PM


Melissa Joseph’s textile-based practice synthesizes diverse processes with her intuitive responses to archival images and found materials to create works that prioritize. Curated by Exhibitions Manager Tess Wei, Conflicting Truths features wall-mounted, shallow relief, and sculptural artworks that highlight Joseph’s exploration of varied media, including both wet- and needle-felted wool, raw dupioni silk, inlaid stoneware, and linen pulp. Her practice also incorporates strategies adapted from painting, sari draping, weaving, and domestic design.
Raised in rural Pennsylvania by her father, a surgeon who emigrated from Kerala, India, and her American mother, the artist’s multicultural background is an integral theme throughout her practice. The subjects and settings represented in her work are often based on family photographs. Some photographs feature her late father and other paternal relatives of Malayali heritage living in India, while other snapshots, taken in the United States, feature her various maternal family members. Through material translations of this personal archive, Joseph offers a new architecture of interpretation wherein her visual language oscillates between soft and firm, natural and industrial, remembered and imagined. What unites her felt, stoneware, and paper-based processes is their use of friction and pressure to combine highly malleable materials into cohesive forms. The coalescence of image and substrate in these methods also generates important parallels between her conceptual considerations and formal concerns. For example, the distortion that occurs to an image during the wet felting process — repetitively rubbing strands of wool in a soap-and-water mixture to interlace fibers —  runs commensurate to with the incomplete, elusive image generated through the process of remembering. 

As she considers her family's archival materials, Joseph engages with intersections of memory, identity, and space, carefully interrogating the complex relationships formed by diaspora. Within her work, Melissa Joseph articulates her own family history while offering space to more broadly consider how identity is formed and reformed by fluctuating relationships to space and ideas of belonging.
Joseph received a BA in Individualized Study from New York University in 2003, an associate’s degree in Textile Surface Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2006, and a Master’s in Art Education from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2008. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibition spaces, such as the New Art Dealer’s Alliance, Miami, FL; the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City; Dieu Donné, NYC; Jeffrey Deitch, NYC; REGULARNORMAL, NYC; Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia; Bradley Ertaskiran Gallery, Montreal; Bravin Lee, NYC; Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ; The Delaware Contemporary, Wilmington, DE; Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ.

She has been awarded residencies by numerous organizations, including the Museum of Arts and Design, Greenwich House Pottery, the Archie Bray Foundation, Fountainhead Arts, Dieu Donné, Textile Arts Center Artist, and Chautauqua School of Art. Joseph’s work has been written about and featured in Hyperallergic, Architectural Digest, CNN, New American Paintings, and Maake Magazine. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn.

Conflicting Truths: Works by Melissa Joseph, an accompanying exhibition catalog, and public events were made possible by the Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist Fund and the Departments of Art and Art History at Swarthmore College.