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Yvette Cummings: Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness presents a moment of transition between experiences of recalled child abuse and the dynamics of motherhood. I am interested in exploring the relationships my daughters have with one another and the complicated path of youth, beauty, and femininity. Girls are constantly told how they should present themselves and are held to an innocence that gets twisted in the adult gaze. Beauty is seen as trouble, but girls are expected to be beautiful. As I have watched my daughters in their youth, I reflect on the trouble that was brought to me as a survivor of child sexual abuse. The scattered memories of my experiences echo in the awkwardness of traversing out of childhood and into self-awareness.

The struggles of adolescence include navigating the dynamics of family, sibling rivalry, and rapid transitions into adulthood. I depict my daughters during these times in relation to one another, and with myself. The narratives present overt physical strain and gesture to relay the message of conflict. My eldest daughter repeatedly confronts the viewer with her gaze. The compositions are purposeful in the postures of the girls. They are representing their age, but we feel voyeuristic in our participation.

I use damask and floral patterns to flatten the spatial aspects of the work. These very traditional, elegant patterns create a visual abstraction and represent the confusion that occurs over time and space. The figures are pushed to the foreground, making the viewer confront them leaving nowhere else for their eyes to go. The figures, in contrast to the patterns, challenge our role in the gaze we place on adolescence and the expectations that come with beauty.

Yvette Cummings is an Assistant Professor at Coastal Carolina University, where she teaches Painting and Drawing courses. She received her Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. While still enrolled at DAAP she was director of the 840 Gallery, interned at the Contemporary art Center of Cincinnati, and was the recipient of the Wolfstien Travel Fellowship to Spain. Following her graduate work, Cummings became an instructor for the University of South Carolina Department of Art. She was awarded the Stephen J. Dalton Teacher of the year from USC in 2011. Cummings is currently a Teaching Associate at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.


Her work has been exhibited in multiple group and solo exhibitions throughout the south and midwest. In 2013 Cummings collaborated with James Arendt to participate in Free City Public Arts Festival, Flint Public Arts Project: Chevy in the Hole with their socially engaging installation titled “Righting Itself”. Her work can be found in both public and private collections and has been featured in the 701 Center for Contemporary Art 2015 South Carolina Biennial in Columbia, SC, as well as Contemporary South at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, NC. Cummings was most recently the recipient of the 701 CCA Prize 2016 for South Carolina artists under 40. Yvette L. Cummings currently resides in Conway, South Carolina where she devotes her time to her studio work, teaching, and family.

Images courtesy of Ann Holderfield

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