I am inspired by folklore, functional pottery, modernism, natural history, and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works investigate the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, questioning how the meanings of icons, objects, and functions transform across cultures and over time. As a consequence of colonialism and conquest, African and Oceanic ceremonial objects made their way into Western consciousness as looted artifacts, stripped of their original frames of reference. They inspired European modernists both for their aesthetic interest and their perceived otherness. I am interested in investigating how fetish, racism, science fiction, and popular culture impede interpretations of ‘non-western’ objects. I play on Western conjecture by producing works that suggest non-Western utilitarian, ceremonial, or ritualistic purpose but are ultimately designed for ‘display’ for the Western consumer. I ultimately seek to expose the interpretative deficiencies of the colonized mind and place them on display beside my work.
Born as one of twelve children, Sharif Bey was raised in a large African American family in Pittsburgh. While many of the men in his family left school for jobs in industry, Bey had a pivotal experience at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) while attending high school. MCG played a formative role for Bey throughout his teens, giving him a foundation of skills and extensive ceramics-world connections. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Bey studied sculpture at The Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia. Later, he earned his BFA from Slippery Rock University, his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and PhD (in art education) from Pennsylvania State University. His awards include: The United States Artist Fellowship, The Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and The J. William Fulbright Scholarship. He is featured in numerous public collections including: The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Carnegie Museum, The Columbus Museum, The Everson Museum, and The Westmoreland American Art Museum. Currently Bey is an Associate Professor of Art at Syracuse University.