Tau Lewis, Symphony, 2020–21. Various recycled and hand-dyed fabrics, recycled leather, cotton batting, beads, acrylic paint, PVA glue, metal hoop skirt, pipe, seashells and wire

Tau Lewis, Symphony, 2020–21. Various recycled and hand-dyed fabrics, recycled leather, cotton batting, beads, acrylic paint, PVA glue, metal hoop skirt, pipe, seashells and wire. Purchased 2021. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Tau Lewis Photo : NGC

Tau Lewis: Celestial Bodies and the Moral Compass of the Universe

Through my body of work, I am unfurling a sci-fi chronicle. The cosmic geographies, their histories and inhabitants are revealing themselves to me as I construct the artworks. I look to the cosmos as a locus of black past and present. I’m not an afrofuturist, I am interested in histories and the portals through which objects, voices and allegories return to us.

The sculpture Symphony is a sovereign of the T.A.U.B.I.S. designation of the Universe. T.A.U.B.I.S. stands for the Triumphant Alliance of the Ubiquitous Blossoms of Incarnate Souls.

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21. sculpture

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21. © Tau Lewis Photo: NGC

The T.A.U.B.I.S. act as the judicial sector of the universe. Lawmakers and law enforcement Uni-wide must seek the blessing and approval of the T.A.U.B.I.S. The T.A.U.B.I.S are very tall, striking figures. Stylish, creative and elegant, draped in pink or yellow hued gowns, or glowing ornately cabled robes. They are often surrounded by veins of blossoming flowers. Motherly, intimidating and beautiful, the T.A.U.B.I.S. have the gift of foresight.

T.A.U.B.I.S. is an institution similar to sainthood. They regulate the moral compass of the Universe. Souls inducted into the T.A.U.B.I.S have lived lives to the fairest and most compassionate of their ability. Ascension to the T.A.U.B.I.S after death is a prospect for any soul belonging to any honourable conscious life-form, regardless of planetary designation, class, species or religion.

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21. sculpture

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21. © Tau Lewis Photo: NGC

The T.A.U.B.I.S. are mutable beings. Devoid of gender, they transmute into blossoms, each one containing a soul, alive and listening. T.A.U.B.I.S. blossoms grow year-round, Uni-wide, even in the harshest weather, and on most hostile planets. The T.A.U.B.I.S communicate and collect intel through these blossoms. The blossoms often offer guidance, foresight, and sometimes song and dance.
 

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Tau Lewis’ immersive sculptural installation Symphony, which is currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada and is part of the Gallery’s permanent collection, comes from an ongoing body of work that builds up this parallel universe of the artist’s own making, known as the Realm of the T.A.U.B.I.S. This fantastical landscape is accompanied by poetic texts that enshrine its mythological order, providing space for the artist to explore values of abundance, safety, deep roots and justice. Immersed in falling blossoms, Lewis’ stunning sculptures create a new world from scraps of our shared history, bridging the terrestrial and the celestial, the intimate and the communal, the archival and the imagined.

Tau Lewis in her studio

Tau Lewis in her studio. Photo : Flo Ngala

Throughout her practice, Toronto-born Lewis draws from traditions of hand-sewing, carving and assemblage to build intricate sculptural portraits and quilts whose subjects take on lives of their own. “Using found materials such as recycled leather,” the artist comments, “I explore the transference of energy and emotion that occurs when an object is made by hand. The very process of gathering and recycling becomes a transformative act that engages in care for the environment and honours relationships with the past.”

Responding to the legacy of the Black diaspora, Lewis’ recent textile works – described by her as “celestial bodies” – act as spiritual conduits across epochs. Her sculptural portraits, meanwhile, reference individuals in her community, as well as imagined ancestors. These exuberant and lively sculptures, stitched together from discarded materials that have been revived by Lewis’ hand, become “vessels for communal healing, engaging personal and historical traumas while envisioning Utopian futures.”

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21

Tau Lewis, detail of Symphony (detail), 2020–21. © Tau Lewis Photo: NGC

The transformative quality of Lewis’ work speaks to her interest in outsider artists from the Black South. She explains that “objects [which] come from the post-slavery era are made largely out of debris and refuse and garbage. I consider them fossils containing the emotional generational DNA of the entire community. I believe that by studying certain art objects and tendencies towards new thinking in the Black community, you can learn a lot about mobility, pictorial memory, trauma and how to recover.”  Woven through with history while emanating a boundless sense of creation, Lewis’ work suggests a tradition of the imagination, pointing out the presence of past generations within each individual’s act of invention.

 

Tau Lewis Symphony

 

Symphony by Tau Lewis is on view at the National Gallery of Canada. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.​

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