Vanessa German brings the power of resilience to campus


The front steps of ARThouse, a community space started by German.

by Sage Hinkleman | Staff Writer

It is very rare to know a person so passionate as Vanessa German. Before I met her in person at her performance in Harper Gallery, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had already visited her artwork on display at the gallery and had seen the unique power her hands possess. So, when I sat down in the audience to watch her perform, I was already incredibly curious.

She began her performance by playing an R&B song and slowly moving around the stage to its rhythm. German invited the audience to join her in her dancing and to feel the music. The performance lasted over an hour and completely brimmed with her originality. She presented the audience with pictures of her artwork, read several of her poems aloud and talked about the path that led to her founding a community art center. After the performance, I sat down with her to ask a few questions.

The title of her show, “Ritual & Resilience” speaks both to German’s personal story and the process in which she creates.

“I am speaking to both the ritual of returning to a generative creative process as a matter of intentionally crafting a life, and the ancient and original human place of ritual and defining meaning.”

German explained that she never allowed her poverty to put a limit on her creative abilities. She could always find paper towels and toilet paper to write on in times of an emergency or when she didn’t have art supplies. This became a ritual for her.

“Applying the black Madonna, which is so sacred, on something like toilet paper, which is meant to be disposed, teaches you that you are doing the best you can with a life that’s so fragile,” German said.

I noticed that German uses incredibly unique materials in her artwork. When I asked her what her favorite materials to work with were, she responded that she doesn’t have a favorite. “I don’t think having a favorite is important. I want to use what I’m supposed to use. And I know that because of how it feels.”

The eyes and hands of the women in German’s work are crafted very boldly and beautifully. German is very purposeful about her use of hands. “A hand for me is a way for me to communicate the power of a human being. I think about just how rare hands like ours are in the animal world.”

German’s bold personality comes from years of purposeful action. “I am looking for a way to be the most alive while I am alive,” German said. “As a child, I worked hard not to feel anything because I thought it would be an easier way to live. I thought that it would be easier to turn the volume down on my emotions and feelings because it hurt so much. Eventually, I had to decide to be courageous enough to feel the things that were there for me to feel. If not, I wasn’t really alive.”