Soynika Edwards-Bush

Soynika Edwards-Bush is a self-taught artist, mother of four, and wife, born and raised in Prichard, Alabama. Bush is an activist in the most compassionate and complete sense. Her work is bolstered by her dogged participation in the community from which she comes, ever striving to present new models and find ways to uplift. In addition to outreach with ACAC, Bush works alongside Legacy 166 and the Boys and Girls Club to bring art into the lives of children.

Elizabet Elliott on the Art of Soynika Edwards-Bush

On a hot day in June of 2020, I drove to Soynika Edwards-Bush’s house to do a studio visit – the industry standard for curators looking to catch new talent. The term studio visit calls to mind polished and cavernous industrial spaces, flooded with natural light and strewn with finely crafted throw blankets, oddly placed modern furniture pieces, and abandoned coffee mugs, signals of creature comfort amidst the creative outpouring of talent. The truth is few artists I’ve ever visited inhabit the kinds of studios immortalized in films and TV.

Soynika’s studio was her dining room table, invisible due to the onslaught of canvases, and her warm house buzzing with children on various eating, homework and extracurricular schedules. A large buffet against the dining room wall strained under the weight of piles of even more canvases, sized to fit in a decidedly domestic and well-lived space, or to be thrown in the backseat of her car. The size of Soynika’s practice and the size of her family threatened to overtake each other. This is the space that all her work since still calls me back to, sitting on a big family couch watching her wrestle the stacks of canvases and memories.

Soynika has spent the two years since our visit as the Artist in Residence on the 3rd floor of ACAC, but her practice still comes from the deeply lived, and very personal space of her home, her mother’s home, and grandparent’s home. The exhibition title is a quote from the youngest of Soynika’s four children, exclaimed as they watched her work from an air mattress on the floor of the studio – a new space more akin to the swanky art-caves of TV land. Emboldened by the space, canvases have gotten much larger, her painting now full human scale. The extra space has afforded Soynika a relationship with the details – the deep green of collards in the sink, the yellow brick patio bathed in sunlight, the patterns of things.

The intimacy of this work stems from the family photographs Soynika uses as source material. But she does not ask for witness. She draws you into this space, into her experience. Paintings she starts from memories are murky, the identities of kin muffled, beginning a broader conversation about Black identity, Black memory, and Black Love. With every detail intact, save the ones we correlate to a name: the eyes, the exact bend and shape of a nose, the crook of a smile or frown, Soynika’s work both haunts, and asks to be inhabited. Dynamic and steadfast figures stand tall in the center of her compositions, faceless but specific, defining the clothes, rooms and landscapes of a Black suburbia in the deep, deep South. Happy childhood memories underpin an ache felt at the loss of a face. These images are impossibly anonymous, both precise, and withheld. The omission of the details of each person’s visage makes way for revelatory and sometimes uncomfortable questions that shape Black identity and move from minutia towards a mandate to look past a name and into an experience of the world. “Mama, These Look Like Lost Souls” is a treatise on Black knowing and knowness. It invites you to explore what is remembered, what is lost, and what is truly knowable from the artist’s vantage point, and by that an act of radical empathy.

– Elizabet Elliott, Director and Curator, Alabama Contemporary Art Center