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Artist Adia Millett on a new generation’s quest to pick apart their identities

Artist Adia Millett on a new generation’s quest to pick apart their identities
"Transmogrify," Adia Millett, 2018. (Shaun Roberts)

Adia Millett says her art is about expanding the notion of identity. It is about cutting our stories apart and creating new stories from those pieces.

Those pieces, and the tales they tell, are on display in the new exhibition “Breaking Patterns,” on view through Aug. 25 at California African American Museum in L.A.’s Exposition Park. Millett works in a variety of media including textiles, collage, photography and painting. Her work is often abstract, featuring geometric shapes that appear to be shifting form to merge into something entirely new and unexpected.

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“Adia is foremost a storyteller,” CAAM curator Mar Hollingsworth says. “As an African American woman, she deals with issues of identity and transformation. … She brings to the table her experiences, family and community, as well as African American history and literature. There’s so much there.”

Millett’s quilts are made from old sheets, clothes and curtains, and she likes to imagine the former lives of these items as she creates. She hopes that the varied history of her materials encourages viewers to project their own experiences onto her work.

“So many young people are starting to pick apart the identities that are placed upon them,” Millett says. “They are no longer one or the other. They can be anything.”

“Breaking Patterns” also includes a series of miniature houses that appear eerily dreamlike. They are meant to evoke a sense of memory and loss, and to explore the deeply personal experiences that define us as we age and grow.

Millett photographs these interiors and incorporates them into her collages, layering her own work in evocative ways.

“The miniatures are one of the earlier examples of me trying to create a space by taking items out and leaving an essence,” Millett says. “So you can project yourself, or a ghost, into the space.”

A peek through the window of "Prefabricated Innocence" by Adia Millett, 2004.
A peek through the window of "Prefabricated Innocence" by Adia Millett, 2004. (Shaun Roberts)
"Flying Coffee Table," Adia Millet, 2015.
"Flying Coffee Table," Adia Millet, 2015. (Shaun Roberts)
"Hut in Meditation," Adia Millett, 2017.
"Hut in Meditation," Adia Millett, 2017. (Shaun Roberts)
"Blind Premonition," Adia Millett, 2009.
"Blind Premonition," Adia Millett, 2009. (Shaun Roberts)
"Tobacco Road," Adia Millett, 2018.
"Tobacco Road," Adia Millett, 2018. (Shaun Roberts)
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