An Emerging Portland Artist Weaves Activism into her Practice
Ashley Page uses her immersive art practices to connect with the community and create conversations.
For Ashley Page, art is immersive, and it’s woven deeply into her daily life and social activity. Visual art is the primary mode of communication for this Portland-based sculptor, curator, arts administrator, and community activist.
Page’s sculptural work revolves around the construction of basket-like biomorphic forms with structures that call to mind both pods and vessels, with calligraphic tendrils that stretch out like inquisitive vines. These sculptures are beautiful and intense, and they strive to communicate with the viewer. At the recent group show Woven Together at Engine in Biddeford, Page’s sculptures reached into the space both physically and narratively, projecting a message of growth and protection. “I have a degree in sculpture, with a minor in public engagement,” she says. “In all of my work, I want to bring my community with me. The model of the lone singular artist in the studio doesn’t work for me.”
What does work for Page is communication and action. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Page attended creative arts high schools, preparing for a life dedicated to visual practice. At the Maine College of Art (MECA), her continued immersion in art led her through a variety of media before she found a home in the college’s sculpture program, where she took her technical understanding of printmaking and textiles into three-dimensional space. The other crucial dimension for Page is social practice. Being awarded the Warren Public Engagement Fellowship at MECA led to her role as the first public engagement intern at Portland’s Indigo Arts Alliance. When she graduated from MECA with honors in 2020, Page was already an important part of Portland’s art scene, both for her art practice and because of the creative social engagement she is fostering, particularly within Portland’s communities of color. Last year she exerted the force of her creativity and community spirit by contributing artwork to seven exhibitions; curating or co-curating six events and exhibitions; and facilitating five public art and community projects.
“In all of my work, I want to bring my community with me. The model of the lone singular artist in the studio doesn’t work for me.”
In Page’s worldview, all creative production is social. “As a showcase of the vulnerability, grace, and complexities of the Black experience, my practice is a vessel used to present larger conversations of representation and visibility of the African American image, intellect, and spirit. Using craft techniques and research processes, I make work for the Black and Brown women, children, men, and elders who don’t see themselves represented within local or global conversations surrounding fine art, craft, and cultural impact,” she writes in her artist’s statement. An example of Page’s creating a community experience with her artistic vision is her recent public art installation, In Memory of Those Taken, in Portland’s Congress Square Park. From August 18 to August 30 of this past year, tall, elegant banners filled much of the park’s vertical space, depicting a small number of the many Black lives lost to police brutality and racially motivated killings across the United States in recent years. The blue and white banners, floating above the treetops in a sequence of celestial pattern and light, juxtaposed sun-printed cyanotypes of floral forms with photographic portraits of individuals whose deaths became national causes, such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, along with Maine’s Chance David Baker and Isahak Muse. The inclusion of local Black neighbors who have died brought this national tragedy into focus as a community issue as well. Page’s ability to sensitively combine beauty, pain, and visual communication in projects like this is a hallmark of her artwork, in all of its varied forms.
Page has expanded this outward-reaching focus by creating opportunities for other artists through her curatorial work. Recent shows include Splay, a group show co-curated with Kelly McConnell at Able Baker Contemporary, an artist-run gallery, in December and January. The exhibition, featuring 12 artists who use process as a thematic starting point, gave a voice to the trials of 2020 through the artists’ responses to a life turned upside down. “The work inclines to meet you, whether oblique or straightforward . . . We will not use your right angles, rather we will meet your gaze knowing that to Splay is to be more at display, extra, and fully inserted in this world,” reads the curatorial statement. The statement underscores the urgency with which art transcends normative boundaries of communication to enable us to reach one another through the turbulent, opaque density of contemporary life.
Page’s plans and projects unspool through 2021 and beyond, in her studio and in the wider community. As studio and programs coordinator at Indigo Arts Alliance, her opportunities for interaction with local, national, and international artists of color will continue to grow. As for her studio practice, her sculptural work currently shines in the galleries of the Portland Museum of Art, where it is included in the group exhibition Untitled 2020: Art from Maine in a ________ Time, on view through May 31. Through the generosity and breadth of her vision as an artist, thinker, and organizer, Page widens the limits of what a life in art can encompass.