Butcher paper represents a number of things for Harlem, N.Y., artist Dianne Smith.
“It’s at once durable and yet there’s a fragility to it,” she said. She has used it in her art as a way of representing the treatment of black people in America through history, showing how the paper can be manipulated and pushed into corners. It also calls to mind elders, aging, and the way history leaves marks.
Yet she also sees beauty in the abstract organic forms she can shape the paper into. “I’m hoping the viewer can engage with the work to find a number of things.”
She used butcher paper and rope to create the site-specific installation “No Limits,” pieces of which hang inside the entranceway to the newly reopened Harrison Museum of African American Culture in Center in the Square and in the hall just outside it.
She deliberately suspended the long, crumpled strands of butcher paper in spaces where art doesn’t normally hang in a museum. A configuration in one corner resembles a fisherman’s net, weighed down by pieces of old wood found here in Roanoke. Another paper construct rises in a column from floor to ceiling like a thick tree trunk.
The pieces in the hall sport more color, twined and knotted from long strips of patterned fabric, breaking away from somber monochrome to amplify a sense of spontaneity. “At the end of the day all of this is about life,” she said.
Smith chose to call the piece “No Limits” after meeting with school groups and Harrison Museum board members. She saw Roanoke as a place undergoing rebirth, with no limits to the directions it can go.