Meet Artwork Archive artist Theda Sandiford.
Theda Sandiford creates multi-disciplinary experiences that provide a safe space to explore themes such as equity and inclusion, sustainability, and personal well-being.
Community art-making is key to this award-winning artist’s process.
“Using personal conflict as a starting point, I juxtapose various fibers with a variety of found materials using free form weaving, coiling, knotting, wrapping, and jewelry-making techniques," said Sandiford. "Meticulously collected materials, transformed by their collective memory become ‘social fabric’ weaving together contemporary issues and personal narratives.”
We got the chance to ask Theda a few questions about her materials, process, business, and how she uses Artwork Archive to manage it all. Read on below for that interview.
Has your work changed over time—do you find yourself understanding your art career through different periods of expression?
While the themes I express via my art have remained consistent throughout my career; identity, microaggressions, and racial trauma, my art practice has evolved through the exploration of different mediums and object materiality.
My earliest works were about understanding my place as a Black woman in the world. As my work has evolved, it has expanded to reflect how my experience with racism has impacted my worldview and mental health.
Exclusion, gaslighting, and the expectation of failure, all sap my psychological and spiritual energies until I exist, as only a shell of myself. I often feel powerless to question subtle acts of discrimination without facing the imminent consequence of being labeled as an “Angry Black Woman.”
I find it is easier to make my way in the world by keeping my mouth shut. To simply grin and bear it when a stranger, haters, well-meaning friends or co-workers say or do something insensitive.
As a child, my father would say to me, “Better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt." So, in keeping my mouth shut, I learned, to be seen, and selectively heard.
With my artwork, I have learned to be fully self-expressed. I have learned to be all of it—the sass, the crass, the erudite, and more than that, I have learned to be aware. [I am more] aware of the language and institutional bias used to quiet me down.
I am now more aware of what is being said, and most importantly, what isn't being said.
Imagine for a moment, how much joy can be found in being fully self-expressed. To be who you truly are is joy, pure unadulterated joy. This joy is a form of activism. That’s the path I am on now.
Mansplaining: Baggage Cart by Theda Sandiford
Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your process?
The most satisfying part of my process is repetition. The repetition of wrapping, weaving, and coiling rope unlocks my flow state and shuts down chatter in my head. Silencing all the noise, grants access to tremendous freedom.
What has your artistic education consisted of (formal or not)? If you did receive a formal education like an MFA, did you find it necessary for your artistic growth, or did you find that elsewhere?
As a child, I gained a healthy appreciation for fiber from the women in my family. My mom taught me macramé, as well as weaving and needlepoint. My grandmother taught me how to sew and my aunt Terry taught me how to knit and crochet. I draw upon these skills regularly in my work now.
I have spent countless hours taking workshops, visiting museums, and studying art books to build my artistic acuity. Not to mention, all the sleepless nights, scrolling through process videos on YouTube Pinterest, Instagram, and now TikTok.
I jokingly tell people that I have a YouTube MFA.
I am an intuitive artist. The choices I make are dictated by my emotions and the materiality of found objects. I start with the experience that triggered how I’m feeling in that moment and then allow serendipity and intuition to drive the selection of materials, colors, textures, and techniques I work with.
Photo courtesy of Theda Sandiford
Which routines—art-making and administrative—are essential to success in your art career?
At the end of my studio practice each week, I spend an hour updating my Artwork Archive database with work in progress images, materials lists, keyword tags, and inspiration notes. When I finish a piece, I use all this data to inform the description and ultimately the naming of the artwork. The time I spend tracking my work at the same time I am creating it is what makes the business admin side of my art career a breeze.
Why did you decide to inventory and archive your artworks?
I started on Artwork Archive in 2016 because I needed a more efficient way to keep track of my artwork. I used to use a spreadsheet to track my exhibition submissions. I kept my images in a Google folder and Word Doc for artwork specs. As organized as I was, I keep losing things and having to recreate similar reports over and over.
Artwork Archive greatly improved my efficiency.
Checking in and out artworks from different locations, keeping track of my exhibition calendar, inventory contact sheets, printing labels, and storing all my images in one place has upped my professionalism—and saves me a ton of time!
A few collections that Theda Sandiford has on view on her Artwork Archive profile.
What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time?
My number one advice for emerging artists is to stay consistent with their art practice.
I make, think about, or view art every single day—especially on the days that I don’t feel like doing anything. Staying consistent is what fuels my ability to push through the tough days