Out of the Cradle of Cilivazaton Insanity Rose, 1995
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Pastel and mixed media collage
13.75 x 11.50 in
In a mixed media work from 1995, titled Out of the Cradle of Civilization Insanity Rose, Wells presents a dystopian creation story. The work is largely about art and history and the way in which Africans, particularly women, were objectified and exploited. Wells has commented that history is often told as “fairy tales,” or myths and from these myths, insanity often ensues. The collage is dominated by a nude African woman—perhaps a sculpture--rendered in the primitivist modernist style. She is holding the head of a smiling white man, likely an artist. Over her left shoulder is the African influenced mask-like face of a woman from a Matisse painting. A paper plume sticks out behind her head that reads “[W]omen Against.” Directly above her head is a red mask with a crown. In the center of the mask is the photograph of a woman, the subject of Raoul Ubac’s Surrealist photograph Dans la Mirror. Balanced on the left is a cheesecake image of a woman posing in a bathing suit; her pose resembles that of Manet’s Olympia, an iconic modernist image of a prostitute on display for a client. A scrap of printed paper to the woman’s right has the name Lucy Lippard, the feminist art historian, printed on it. Above the print are the numerals 666, the sign of Satan, indicating the Biblical fall of paradise—the insanity to which Wells refers in the title. Pastel drawing around the figures indicates an abstracted, lush, garden-like space. The artist’s use of color, however, serves to flatten the pictorial space, creating a claustrophobic realm that references the insanity. Wells shows how the paradise of the cradle of civilization was exploited and the role women play as objects of exploitation and subjects of change. Chris Miller has written about Wells’ collages that “[t]he … dreamworld of surrealism and the righteous politics of social justice cohabit this ... work. Anger, humor and whimsy are ... combined” Born in 1951, Della Wells grew up in Milwaukee. As a child and young person, she did not want to become an artist but a storyteller; to this day she considers herself to be a “visual storyteller.” She sold her first work of art at age 13, but she did not begin working as an artist until she was 42. She has said, “I didn’t do anything for a long time, because I didn’t think I had anything to say. You can draw, you may know how to do things technically, but I think to be a true artist you have to have something to say. You have to have a vision.” Her creative process stems from her personal experiences and her works are often inspired by her troubled childhood. Known for her collages, drawings, dolls, paintings, and pastels, Wells has created a magical land called “Mambo” populated and ruled primarily by black women. Wells is a self-taught artist and her work has been successful in “outsider art” venues, including the Outsider Art exhibition in New York. Wells’ art is exhibited in more than 100 private and public collections. Her work has been purchased by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her collages are sold at the National Museum of African American History and culture.