My work often marks the intersections of language, craft and devotional labor — a set of interests that the Dieu Donné workspace residency nurtured from the start. The Comber, the main focus of my work during the residency, began as a series of experimentations in which a single translated line from a Sufi devotional poem was rendered in pulp many times using large, hand cut stencils and a stark palette evoking chalk on a blackboard. I was drawn to the phrase — the comber draws out the beloved’s hair with her fingers — because it suggests the intimate repetition of the act of combing through strands of hair as well as combing understood as a kind of search. I also came to think of this untangling, organizing, trail-leaving notion of combing as being intimately related to drawing itself.
In the studio, Steve Orlando has a knack for sizing up your strengths and inclinations while constantly challenging you to push beyond them. With the help of his expertise and encouragement I quickly adapted to new materials and processes that have opened up my visual vocabulary and transformed my relationship to the handmade. Recently, after seeing six panels from the Comber series installed together as one large work, a friend remarked that collaborating with Dieu Donné had upped the ante in my relationship with labor in art. I hope to carry this lesson forward into new projects.
— Alyssa Pheobus, 2009
A native of Maryland, Pheobus is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program. She lives and works in Brooklyn.