Project example by CJ Mitchell. Tyvek®, acrylic paint on window.
Project example by CJ Mitchell. Tyvek®, acrylic paint on window.

Paper Weight

By CJ Mitchell, Community Access Manager

In Sukanya Mani’s exhibition Weight of Shadows, I am drawn to one piece in particular: Sisterhood (Five Women in a Rectangular Plane), 2021 (image below). It is a striking work of art that uses positive space (the focal point or subject matter) and negative space (the background or empty area) through the beautiful use of contrast between the white paper and the black painted wall, and with the cuts of wonderful organic shapes that create the five women. Sisterhood speaks, it has a presence and a feeling. I think about the energy of women coming together in solidarity. The art gives the feeling of supporting one another, and the specialness of that experience. Recently I was corresponding with an old friend, who sent me a picture of art I created that hangs in her home office. This piece was about women for women. It was a wood print I did in college, called Four Women: Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches (image below). This art was inspired by Nina Simone’s song Four Women. In this song Simone speaks to the life stories of African American women in the United States since slavery. She describes these women with the positive and negative tropes or clichés that still exist in today’s culture. In this activity, you can create a subject matter important to you in a cut paper piece. 

Ages: Grades 5–12+ (11 years–Adult)

Time It Takes: 60 minutes +

What We Are Going To Do: 

  • Drawing
  • Cutting
  • Painting

You’ll Need: 

  • Tyvek
  • Pencils
  • Scissors/Exacto knife
  • Acrylic/Watercolor/Tempera paint
  • Cutting Pad/Soft surface to cut on
  • Paper (optional)
  • Glue (optional)

Before We Start: 

Let’s look at an image of Sisterhood (Five Women in a Rectangular Plane), 2021, by Sukanya Mani. Her work consists of a large piece of paper-like fabric called Tyvek® positioned in front of a painted black wall. Mani represents five women who might be standing (or how I like to think of them as floating) side by side, each represented by a different use of organic cut shapes. Mani began this work during the pandemic and was influenced by increasing reports of domestic abuse. When most people were confined to their homes, women in vulnerable isolation were unable to find refuge outside of these living situations. Mani’s work represents the dichotomy of being confined to one’s home: for some it is a safe place, but for others it is the complete opposite. While conducting interviews and listening to the stories of immigrants and refugees in domestic abuse situations, Mani would draw, then paint and cut representations of these experiences, producing the artwork in the exhibition Weight of Shadows. While looking at the art, think about the questions below:

Sukanya Mani, Sisterhood (Five Women in a Rectangular Plane) (installation view and details), 2021. Photo courtesy CAM staff.

Think About

  • Do any of the cuts remind you of organic objects found in nature? 
  • How does the use of positive and negative space impact the art?
  • How many different organic shapes can you find in the art?
  • Do you see any patterns emerge as you look at this work?
  • What do you notice about how the artist chose to represent the women?

Art Activity

1. Decide on an image or design you would like to create. Think about positive and negative space. As you think about drawing a subject matter that means something to you,  keep the lines simple, like a flower, butterfly, or animal. Draw it using regular pencil and paper.

2. Then take a sharpie and go over your drawing, creating positive and negative space. 

3.   Now get your piece of Tyvek® and either cut out your design and trace on Tyvek® or draw your design straight on the Tyvek®.

4. Now cut out your design with an Exacto knife or scissors. Once cutting is complete, you can use paint to add color or use colored paper as a background. There are infinite possibilities. 

5.   If using several materials, such as Tyvek®, paper, or printed words, layer and arrange them in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to you. Then you are done.