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Clarissa Sligh


Photo courtesy of the artist

Interview conducted by Monica Acosta, Scripps College '18



With various different formats of presenting art, what drew you to create this piece in the form of an artist's book?

I was making image/text photographic prints when this narrative evolved. It was too long to treat in that manner. As a result I turned to the artist book format.

How do you think the format of an artist's book best explores/examines race and identity?

Like film and music, artists’ books provide a space for complex and multilayered thematic development of narrative sequences with rhythmic pacing.

In What’s Happening With Momma?, the book follows your story as a child experiencing the home birth of a younger sibling. Did you have any hesitations or reservations about choosing this medium to tell this story?

No! The first What’s Happening with Momma? book was made using an alternative photographic brown printing process. I felt the process allowed the work to look “old’ and at the same time revealed the construction of the negatives. I constructed negatives to contact print the book as I had done to make single prints. However, the chemicals were applied to the paper and the printing was done in a dark room, resulting in many prints that did not work.

When the book edition was made using the silkscreen process, ink colors were selected to resemble and perhaps simulate the results of the photographic processes.

What’s Happening With Momma? was made as a small safe space in which to relay a traumatic event in a child’s life (mine). For me the house structure connotes the safety and comfort of home, yet dramatic and terrifying events occur. 

The inside of the book represents the interior of the house and the outside represents the outdoors. The texts on a folded and silkscreened accordion are like the windows and steps of the house. I wanted the viewer to become physically involved with the book by reading the words on the steps from page to page and to relate to the child’s experience of going up and down the steps while running in and out of the house. Closing the accordion style book relates to closing the door of the house to reveal the house façade of a “home”.

The font was related to the book fonts of the 1940s and 1950s readers that school children were taught to read from. The color of the inks and papers were selected to evoke remembering, memories, or the past. The weight of the paper had to be sturdy in order for the book to structurally stand on its own.

I think it’s amazing that I am answering questions about a book that I made 30 years ago. I hope the same happens with yours.

How would you like your audience to interact with your work?

Hold it close, spend time with it and return to it over and over again.

How are the central themes/messages of your work relevant to contemporary issues?

I don’t relate my work to contemporary issues.

What motivated the creative choices you made for the presentation of your artist’s book i.e. does the choice of font/paper/ink/style have any significance?


How has your experience as a photographer influenced What’s Happening With Momma? and your work as a visual artist?

The book was done using photographic techniques first. I went to Womens Studio Workshop to get help in turning it into an edition.

What is your definition of an artist’s book?

Don’t have one. It’s anything that you want it to be.