“My installations are drawings in space large enough for people to walk through. Inspired by constellations in the night sky, I hang chunks of coal, steel rods, iron and bronze metal castings, and black glass beads from the ceiling to make a loose maze that viewers navigate on their own. Humans have made drawings between starry dots of light throughout our existence. Some have lasted for millennia: Cassiopeia, the Queen; Draco, the Snake-in-the-Sky; Delphinus, the Dolphin. I use these eternal patterns as a springboard for sculptural drawings that anchor me to Earth.
I conceived these works while living in Ghana. I spent a year there on a Fulbright grant to study traditional metal casting techniques and have returned many times since. In Ghana my view of the world changed. Even the stars seemed to tilt because I was in a different spot on the globe. Seeing the sky from a new perspective, I imagined making a necklace for the Queen of Heaven, Cassiopeia, an African queen who is supposed to have been turned into a constellation because her beauty surpassed the immortals.
Many of the constellations and their stories have an African angle that I learned from my mentor, Joseph Agyemang. He taught me the thousand year-old techniques of West African metal casting and the traditions of Ashanti culture. The bronze and brass beads we made are individual sculptures. Strung together, they are brilliant stars, as yellow as brass, rosy as copper, or golden as bronze. Paul Amponsah and Kofi Amponsem, Joseph’s assistant metal casters, collaborated with me to make the bronze beads for the installations and shared traditional stories as we worked. I consider them co-creators.
For over a decade I have gone to Ghana to cast my own metal pieces and collaborate on projects that bring education for girls into the village. They have paid the school fees for three girls who would not have gotten a good education otherwise. The girls all graduated recently.
Lately I have been making more artwork using objects from nature as well as cast metal. My most recent piece, Sun and Planet, includes a butterfly wing that flutters at the slightest air current. It is as alive as a leaf—and as precious as bronze.” — Virginia Tyler