Class Acts: Addoley Dzegede

Exploring ideas of home and belonging through art

Posted by Liam Otten May 13, 2015

This story is part of WUSTL's Class Acts series, which recognizes graduating students who are changing the world through research, service, and innovation.

An artwork can be an object. But for Addoley Dzegede, who will earn her Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art from the Sam Fox School May 15—and who will speak at the Art Recognition Ceremony the evening before—it is more like a conceptual approach, one that informs sculpture, audience interactions, and environmental interventions alike.

You employ a range of different media and artistic strategies. How would you define your practice?

Visually, my work can seem like it wasn't made by the same person! (Laughs.) But it is linked thematically. Mostly it has to do with home and belonging. It's about questioning spaces where I don't feel I belong, and where other people might not feel they belong, and saying, "It's okay to be here!"

Last fall, you installed Shul, which consists of 175 hand-cast hypertufa bricks, on the border between St. Louis City and County. What drew you to that site?

It's where the sidewalk ends! A sign says "Begin St. Louis County Maintenance," and the road is darker and fresher on the county side. But the county side doesn't have a sidewalk, so people in the area, including me, had worn a pathway with their feet. I thought, "Why don't I make a gesture here?"

How did people react?

At one open studio, a woman told me that it's great on muddy days because she doesn't have to walk in the street. That was pretty nice.

Now they're disappearing. Grass is growing over them. But that's part of it, too. They're not meant to be permanent.

For Foundations, currently on view in the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, you've transformed an old art history slide catalog into a kind of metaphorical autobiography. Can you describe the piece?

It has to do with identity and identity construction. It's about building spaces of belonging for myself and for other people.

There are 26 drawers, as well as eight windows and a door. The drawers contain small objects: a shell, an American flag, the Ghanaian game oware. One drawer, called "Genesis," has a video of a baby floating in darkness. Another drawer has a crossword puzzle I made about the intersections of race, class, and gender. The answer key is on the back.

The windows aren't meant to be opened, but they have tiny window coverings. Behind the peephole is a flickering candle, letting you know that someone is home.

Dzegede at work on Foundations in her Lewis Center studio. Photo by Stan Strembicki.

Foundations as installed at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, as part of the 2015 MFA Thesis Exhibition, on view through August 2. Photo by Katherine Bish.