National Museum of Women in the

Malik, Farewell ‘Till We Meet Again, Corcoran Gallery of Art

ARTIST SYLVIA SNOWDEN has developed this body of work to celebrate the life of her son, Malik Butler. It brings together paintings on canvas, and on paper, as well as actual objects from Malik’s life. She created these pieces after Malik’s 1993 murder, near their home in Northwest Washington, DC. Snowden’s treatment of the objects seems an act of ritual, an attempt to process and commemorate a life that ended at age 18.

Snowden has dealt with difficult themes and urban hardships in other work focused on the lives of her neighbors, but sadness came a bit closer to home when her son was shot. In her mind, the loss of Malik’s life, and that of so many young people, is more than a personal tragedy; it represents a loss that affects all concerned-the victims, the killers, their families and communities. The work included in this exhibition is highly personal and specific, yet the combination of familiar objects and abstract paintings allows for universal meanings.

Snowden’s thick application of paint covers the canvases and paper as well as objects. These pieces include Malik’s crib, rocking horse, roller skates, shoes, tools, books, bicycle, and motorcycle. Their potency comes from their direct relationship to Malik’s life and their subsequent transition into the realm of art. Significantly, each of these pieces marks a stage in his growrth. They help the viewer to visualize Malik’s activities, his successes and pains, triumphs and travels as he made his way through this world.

The dense surfaces and painterly quality of these works is typical of Snowden’s approach. So, too, is the expressive content of the characters, symbols, and other markings. Her colors are vibrant and rich, and the textures have a generous, tactile quality. The balance of brightness and darkness in her palette creates a sense of wonder, a world of contrasts mir­oring the spectrum of emotions inspired by Malik’s life. Snowden’s art reaffirms Malik’s existence, just as it provides a poignant reminder of his loss.

Malik, Farewell ‘Til We Meet Again The Corcaran Gallery of Art August 26 – October 23, 2000 was made possible through the efforts of Jack Cowart.

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National Gallery of Art