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  • Rob Will

See Something, Say Something : The Art of Sarah Derat

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

I have been heavily vibing on the art of Sarah Derat... letting it swirl & twirl around my mind... dancing here, shouting there, confronting, challenging, daring.

When I first received pictures from Sarah Derat's latest show, See Something, Say Something, I was in the middle of a deep yoga-meditation session... Very much in the present with a clear mind and very open sense of perception. My light was off so I could not see very well but I flipped through the pictures and the first thing I saw clearly was the huge steel sculpture with “Cameron” etched into it. Cameron: Cameron Todd Willingham who was unjustly executed by the state of Texas. I knew him and I considered Todd a friend. Seeing this sculpture moved me quite deeply. I flipped through the other images, put them down and then continued to meditate and think of the Cameron piece and other pieces of Sarah Derat's art...So many thoughts...

History is a subject that I love and I have studied much world history, including the history of sculpture... My mind was taken to the foot of the pyramids of Egypt, the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Persia, Stonehenge in the UK, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. These monolithic structures are often described as imposing and haunting. I do believe that Derat's work can be characterized in this manner. It places a certain imposition upon the mind accompanied by a haunting honesty: feel me, understand me. A subtleness yet a hammer blow. A call to quiet contemplation yet a jar to the psyche. The steels conveys a sense of immobility and solidity and this causes dissonance and disturbance. The weight, the heaviness...

Of course I understand - in an extemely visceral manner- what it means to be in solitary confinement, to be encaged and surrounded by millions of dollars worth of impenetrable and unbreakable steel. I also know what it means to see people I have known for years be murdered by the state. I know what it means to wage war, to know loss and defeat but to also know victory.

Vibing with Derat's art has reminded me of the conceptualist idea of intervention- the idea of inserting an unexpected and dissonant element into a “normal” visual environment. Upon first glance one might assume that the large steel monolithic sculptures are simply an aesthetic statement of volume, form, size, shape... and when one realizes there is much more to it...WOW! A psychosociopolitical intervention!

The cross pieces, [entitled "Aberration of Light"] are intriguing as well. The cross is such an ancient, widespread and all encompassing symbol. I have a bit of hyper-methodical compulsiveness sometimes in relation to art and these pieces speak to that within me. The symmetry, the repetition. I of course thought of the popular modern Christian symbolism of the cross: glory, hope, pain, sacrifice, triumph. I cannot help but think that such an installation could not be done in Texas! It would seriously probably be protested against and condemned.

The choice of wood for the crosses. Sacramentum ligni Vita (sacrament of the wood of life). Perhaps the crosses will push the viewer to a position of contrasting them to the other pieces at the exhibition, push the viewer to a crossroads where choices are made. See something, Say something. A place of passage. Papa Legba, Exu, Esu Elegbara, Saint Peter stands before you and exclaims “See Something, Say Something!” an accusation and a dare.

While viewing Sarah Derat's work- and reading what the art historian Anais Grateau has written about it- I felt compelled to pick up my paintbrush. A brilliant piece of music came on, “Turn Around” from the box version of The Corner Sessions by Miles Davis. I went to work while listening to jazz and old blues music and the above 12 x 18 inch painting is the result. It is entitled “Trapped Within the Maelstrom/ Shoelaces/ To Hell with Wretched Schopenhauer!!”

You should know the someone I have known for years was recently found dead in his cell. Although many are skeptical of this, the official story is that he hung himself with a pair of shoelaces. This is the text I wrote on the back of the painting:

“Listening to old Blues music and thinking of Antonio (Toni Tone) Williams who was just found dead in his cell... they said he hung himself with a pair of shoelaces. I have known far too many people who have committed suicide...alone in a cell... just like the wretched cell I am in now

***You can see Sarah Derat's work HERE***

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