By her own admission, sculptor Dominique Scaife only started taking her art seriously a few years ago, but she already has a distinct style. She makes clay busts that explore the diversity of Black life, paying special attention to details like hair, jewelry, and makeup. On Sat., Aug. 17, Scaife’s show World Melanation: A Celebration of Hue opens at the Spinning Plate Gallery. The exhibit will consist of 20 sculptures, all Black women, dedicated to exploring and celebrating varieties in skin tone and appearance.
The phrase “world melanation” came to Scaife during meditation and she decided to apply it to multiple art projects. But “celebration of hue” was a deliberate choice of words to emphasize all the shades in her sculptures.
“We have a long history of colorism within our culture and I want to see what this world looks like beyond colorism, within our individual group, and with the rest of the world,” says Scaife. “Instead of having the old conversation of what colorism is, where our hurts are, what if we ascended beyond that and just celebrated each other and loved each other?”
In addition to the bust sculptures, Scaife will have 2D drawings of the pieces on paper that visitors can color themselves, which will then become part of the exhibit. The idea stems from an incident that happened when Scaife’s daughter was little, and a cousin told her she couldn’t color with the brown crayon because she was lighter-skinned.
“I want the youth to come in, I want them to see art, and I want them to see a representation of themselves that they could also color like that,” Scaife says.
She says she didn’t grow up around art, but liked the ceramics class she took in high school. When Scaife wanted to find a creative outlet, she gravitated towards clay or, as she puts it, “clay chose me.” When her daughter graduated from high school, Scaife began working more with clay. Her daughter was impressed with her sculptures and threatened that if her mom didn’t do something with them, she would do it for her.
The sculptures all have distinctive faces, but share certain qualities. There’s heavy emphasis on the eyes, nose, and lips. The eyes are often closed, with the eyelids resting in a serene and peaceful way. The clay has a handmade quality to it, not in a way that looks amateur, but one that honors the marks from the hands that touched and molded it. They often have distinct statement jewelry. Scaife pays special attention to the hair, styling some in locs, Bantu knots, and twist outs.
She says the faces are not based on any one woman in particular but a collection of features she’s noticed from extensive people-watching. “It's not any specific person, but it's just these images that I see and hold in my mind and when I'm sculpting, they come out,” she says. “Maybe you'll see a part of you. It doesn't have to be the whole you, maybe you'll say, 'Oh, I have that nose’ or ‘I have that hairstyle’ or ‘I have those lips.’”
The exhibit is a celebration of bodies, faces, skin colors, and personalities, and ultimately Scaife just wants visitors to see and appreciate something they don’t often see depicted in art around Pittsburgh.
“In this world in my mind that I'm creating with my sculptures, I just want us to be celebrated, because often Black women are not celebrated,” she says. “No matter what skin tone you come in, you matter.”