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Guided by the violet flame, the new works by artist Ambrose Murray share mythical narratives and connect realms to offer a path to an exchange of souls. Partially disjointed figures make an appearance in front of the viewer’s gaze while shimmering layers in shades of purple, violet, blues, and turquoise hide and simultaneously reveal an ephemeral landscape surrounding the bodies that become the site for us to meet.
The color violet threads through Murray’s work like the words of Dionne Brand’s poem “Verso 55,” which situates us at Ghana’s Door of No Return where visitors pay their respects and connect with ancestors.
“…they felt happy for us, we were still alive.
Yes, we are still alive we said.
And we had returned to thank them.
You are still alive, they said.
Yes we are still alive.
They looked at us like violet; like violet teas they drank us.
We said here we are.
They said, you are still alive.
We said, yes, yes we are still alive.
How lemon, they said, how blue like fortune.”
Murray creates a similar space of connection using figurative and abstract elements that build on research, spirituality, and intuition. As we engage with the multitude of meanings, we notice the gaps in Murray’s works, whether visually traceable or hinted at in between the layers of fabric. She intentionally holds space for the ancestors to enter and for the viewer to become part of the continuation. The in-between space—like the swamps of the South that the artist wants to acknowledge for holding historical meaning for Black and Indigenous people—offers a point of insertion and intervention but also concealment and mysticism.
Spirituality plays a big role in the artist’s approach to her practice. With the guidance of a healer, she used the violet flame as a cleansing spiritual tool. After the experience, she noticed that violet and purple had started to become dominant colors in her work and that the colors had already been guiding her as part of a healing process that she shares through her work, inviting others to heal alongside her, offering meaningful connection and a path to becoming.
Murray considers the color violet a descriptor of the very moment of spirituality when meeting the ancestors. There are no words to adequately describe the moment. No words can hold the meaning and emotion and purpose of the moment, because truly the moment is infinite. “The color gives the moment feeling,” she said. “There is an infiniteness that you can step into.”
Murray’s process starts with looking at photographs and finding archival or contemporary images she is drawn to, then piecing them together slowly. Research and a historical lens means she intentionally brings stories from the past into the present, connecting generations. The images are the basis for the telling of larger stories that resonate and exist beyond the individual experience.
She then either paints in oil or acrylic inspired by the photographs, or edits and prints photographs onto the fabric to create the figurative elements central to her work. At times, we also see non-human elements, such as parts of horses, a reference to the artist’s interest in Black cowboys and their history, as well as a symbol for freedom, strength, and power. These elements strongly connect the work to the American South where her own roots draw her into in-depth research across Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The fabric sourcing is also an integral part of Murray’s process—sometimes found or bought at thrift stores and specialized fabric stores. She sees the act of sewing as a meditative and very intimate and sensory experience and a connector to the women of the past, “like sewing with past generations.”
The material from thrift stores across the South adds layers of meaning to her works, as the pieces allow her to consider lineage and heritage more deeply, inviting the garments’ histories and previous owners into the narrative. The silk organza is often hand dyed by the artist. The translucent and ephemeral quality of the flowy silk thinly veils the realms of the living and the dead as she continuously offers an invitation for exchange between past, present and future, and asks for spiritual and ancestral guidance.
Its layers work visually and conceptually, pulling back the veil between dimensions to access connection to ancestors. Even in a room filled with stillness, the fabric moves and the light shifts perception. Shadows change, expose and hide visual details, as well as pieces of thought and ideas. What could be in between? What could have been before? What could be after? The veil is thin and allows us to see through into a place of potentiality, catch glimpses, and even touch, feel a connection as a bodily and spiritual experience, and offer a space for presence…. “they looked at us like violet; like violet teas they drank us. We said here we are….”