From KQED’s Spark Program:

It’s wonderfully difficult to describe the work of Sha Sha Higby. Her costumes, or moving sculptures, are tornados of colors, textures and shapes. They look like everything and nothing at the same time. There are no analogies that can fully characterize Higby’s work, but one might be reminded of a Venetian Carnivale mask, African tribal art or a character in Japanese Noh theater.

That familiar images make up an otherworldly whole in her costumes is perhaps appropriate, given the experience of the artist herself. The path of Higby’s artistic development has been a journey through distant places, landing her here in the Bay Area. When Higby was a child, she made birds, filling her house with paintings and drawings of them. Her parents were divorcing at the time, and she described the birds as “something to divert me, a way out.” This artwork was a form of escape, but it was also the first step in her development as an artist.

After college, Higby’s career took flight, carrying her from her home in Marin to Asia. Her experiences abroad give her work its marked Eastern influence. “I studied with a craftsman who creates for the Noh theater. They have very elaborate costumes — and these heads, these masks — they move so slowly, they’re like sculptures. They have this strong, emotional quality, but it’s very slow. It’s subtle.”

Later, Higby received a Fulbright scholarship to study shadow puppetry and make sculptures in Indonesia, a country whose artistic sensibilities balanced well with Japan’s. “I went to Indonesia to study the elaborateness,” she explains. “Japan is simplicity. Indonesia is the fullness of the ornate. … It’s like a flat landscape when you look at it, but when you peel it away, there’s all this richness and complexity of layers, which I like in my work.”

In the Spark episode “Fusion,” get a glimpse of Higby’s creative process, a process that has wandered through time, leaped over oceans and slowly grown by accretion. Each individual costume that is used in performance can take years to make and is informed by a lifetime of experience. The semi-abstract nature of Higby’s costumes allows viewers to color the experience with their own imagination — one might end up in a place far away that the artist herself may not have imagined. With her art, Higby has found her journey and achieved her escape. The hope is that the viewers will find theirs as well.

Enjoy,

Rachel

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