Through her experience on a residency in Suriname, self-taught contemporary woodworker Autumn T. Thomas has developed a collection that speaks to her embrace of ancestry, community, and exploration of self.
DENVER– Last year, Autumn T. Thomas was sponsored by the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator for a residency in Suriname. From her month-long journey emerged Dancing in the Diaspora, her current solo exhibition at Understudy in the Denver Theatre District. Through her experience, the self-taught contemporary woodworker developed a collection that speaks to her embrace of ancestry, community, and exploration of self.
Dancing in the Diaspora explores a rhythmic fluidity with wood sculpture that abstractly exemplifies the free spirit within the chaos of reality and the beauty of reconnection with her ancestral history. Utilizing unpainted woods that are native to South America and Africa, each piece harkens back to the natural and earthly connections we have within us that Thomas freely shares with the viewer. Her work combines the natural and the manufactured to place the viewer in the perfect position to examine her immersion and cultivation of her culture.
Thomas explains, “There’s really only one way to experience all these things that we’re talking about, this sort of soulful, ancestral connection. You have to go there and be in it.” With this collection, Thomas focuses on the unification of the manufactured experiences she’s having with the natural element of wood, being Black, and having a deep internal connection to her ancestry. “For me it is very natural and it’s very light and it feels beautiful,” she says. “Coupled with the weight of not having met my ancestors, the combination between the natural element and the manufactured element was essential.”
Thomas titled the exhibition Dancing in the Diaspora because she has the chance to still embrace and, in a sense, dance with the positive aspects of her life while still being as close as possible to people she met in Suriname that are deeply connected to the African diaspora. “And they’re beautiful, and they were familiar in ways that I had never known was possible,” she relates. “And so if I can bring back that experience and say, this is what it feels like to just be living my best life and have others relate to it and take that home with them, the point of the show has been successful.”
Often, conversations of identity and reconnecting are trapped by polarizing issues that can inhibit us from seeing the beauty within the experience itself. With pieces like the Weight of Growth and Reverberations (both 2023), Thomas contends with the cumbersome, physical difficulties of reconnection; by also including projections, she creates movement and explores the fluidity of its power. The ability to embrace the connections before us is vital, no matter how heavy and abstract the journey to understanding may be.
Thomas is a current artist in residence at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, where her work is currently featured in the exhibition Gravitropic. In April, she also plans to exhibit her work in a group exhibition in Suriname, curated by Rosie Gordon-Wallace and the DVCAI. You can explore more of her work this May at the Pace Center in Women with Power Tools, curated by Rose Fredrick.