Arts and Entertainment

Ebony G. Patterson’s ...Things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting…

A discussion of the style and techniques employed by contemporary artist Ebony G. Patterson in her current exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden.

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Throughout the year, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) hosts various art exhibitions that are closely tied to scientific exploration, innovation, and culture. NYBG exhibitions historically feature interdisciplinary works of art to reveal the inseparable links between people and the environment we live in. Each year, their annual Holiday Train and orchid shows attract visitors from around the world to experience the magical landscape of the garden’s conservatory. But from May 27 until September 17, the conservatory has been re-established to house multimedia artist Ebony G. Patterson’s exhibit of exotic flora and garden-inspired installations: ...Things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting…

Born in 1981, Patterson received a BFA in painting from the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts before going on to earn an MFA degree in Printmaking and Drawing from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University St. Louis. Patterson then taught art at several institutions, including her alma mater, Edna Manley, as well as the University of Virginia, making her not only an experienced artist but also an experienced teacher.

Patterson uses her multilayered painting and sculpture installations to address global social injustices. Her immersive garden-inspired installations highlight the increasing impact of human activity on the world around us. Patterson often incorporates human features into her art alongside beings of nature to make viewers question their place in the environment. “My work often explores working-class cultures and spaces, and the engagements in declaring presence as an act of protest,” Patterson said in her 2018 artist’s statement. Patterson seeks to use her art as a way to speak for those that society has oppressed, including nature like the plants and animals on display at the NYBG. “I aim to elevate those who have been deemed invisible as a result of inherited colonial social structures, by incorporating their words, thoughts, dress, and pageantry as a tactic to memorialize them. It is a way to say: ‘I am here, and you cannot deny me,’” Patterson said. While, in the past, Patterson has advocated for different marginalized groups of people, she is now advocating for the other natural beings that society has harmed, such as the extinct plants she replicates in her art.

In ...Things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting…, Patterson floods the indoor and outdoor garden spaces with extravagantly detailed mixed media installations of exotic flora and fauna. Throughout, Patterson displays hundreds of jeweled sculptures of vultures that line the paths and emphasize her focus on the life around us. The grand nature of Patterson’s sculptures conveys the majesty of nature and the idea that we should treat it with immense respect and appreciation.

Inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Patterson litters the hallways with white skeletons of extinct plants, samples of which can actually be found in the William & Lynda Steere Herbarium at the NYBG—the second largest herbarium (plant library) in the world. Patterson fills fountains with water dyed dark red and blue to manipulate their perceived depth and make it seem as though the bottom of the two-foot-deep fountains is nowhere in sight. Emerging from these fountains and the plants within them are acrylic molds of human body parts, such as legs and feet. This ominous detail adds mystery to the stories told by Patterson’s art, leaving visitors to contemplate why the appendages are included in her exhibit of glitter-encrusted vultures and extinct plant skeletons—what relationship do humans really have with the natural world?

Patterson’s ...Things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting… exhibit brilliantly intertwines the idea of speaking for the speechless with the garden landscape. By portraying human appendages extruding from the displays of plant skeletons, Patterson places blame and some responsibility on humans for interfering in the lives of the plants around us and ultimately playing a role in their extinction. In the end, she does this as a way of protesting against human recklessness in nature on behalf of the living things that surround us. Patterson’s work will captivate those who visit with both its beauty and its mystery; its dark details leave the true purpose of her work largely unexplained, welcoming visitors to interpret its meaning for themselves. Celebrations of Patterson’s work can be found throughout the garden in places such as the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, where children get the opportunity to create art inspired by Patterson’s work. Throughout the summer, NYBG visitors are invited and encouraged to stop by Patterson’s captivating display and appreciate its beauty for themselves.