Having only been in America for the last three years, Michael Dika still feels like a stranger in a strange land. It’s those feelings that he channels into his sculptures.
“I think it’s mostly about being able to navigate my environment and then having that environment become a part of my pieces in a way,” said the Ghana-born sculptor, who is working toward his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Delaware in Newark.
Three of his pieces, where he incorporates foreign objects into new environments such as clay, are on display starting today at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, in a new exhibit called “Visions & Voices.”
After years of hosting juried art exhibitions for photographers, landscape artists and figural artists, the Biggs Museum is introducing this juried show, which highlights work by 20 African American artists from the mid-Atlantic region, including Mr. Dika.
The pieces showcase a range of topics, styles and media, including drawing, sculpture, painting, photography, fiber and digital art.
It will be accompanied by an opening reception this evening, artist talks, public programming and gallery sales of many accepted works. “Visions & Voices” will be on view through May 21.
The three works on display by Mr. Dika, 27, comprise a series called “Bodily Assemblage” and range from 6-15 inches tall. Three was the maximum number of entries any one artist was allowed.
“I started creating them last semester. This was the perfect opportunity for me to show these pieces because I’ve not shown them anywhere before. The Biggs is the first to actually have these pieces. I started creating and reading the idea behind the Biggs exhibition, and I thought it was very much in line with the works I was doing,” he said.
“So I was really excited to have my pieces in there. And then, fortunately for me, all my pieces were selected for the show. So that actually makes a lot of sense, to see how my pieces were directly in line with the show.”
The works contain disparate objects not normally seen in fine art.
“I’m looking to delve more into the direction in which I started for my pieces. That’s having found objects, discarded objects, objects that people don’t pay attention to and trying to give it a little bit of attention and dedication and take organic and inorganic objects and find a way to add value to them,” he said.
“I use mostly materials that people have used before and have histories attached to those materials I’m using. Having these tangible materials become a part of a piece that will be in a museum, it’s like a big deal. It changes the perception of how people view discarded objects or, like, just materials laying around, like ‘Oh, I didn’t think of this.’”
He says he selects many of his objects, such as discarded pipes, from a scrap yard at UD.
“Students will discard these materials because they didn’t work for them very well. But then I pick them up, recycle them and find a way to juxtapose them with my clay materials,” he said.
“So I think it’s a very interesting challenge for me to be able to take something that someone didn’t have value for and trying to accommodate it with clay and put them together in environments where one becomes very hard, and the other becomes very vulnerable.
“I think, for me, it also talks about being vulnerable and being fragile in a way because, when you put them in the kiln, the temperature of the kiln makes the metal very malleable, which means the metal becomes the material that becomes very vulnerable in the kiln, as (opposed) to the beginning stages, when the clay was the vulnerable material.”
Having grown up in Ghana, Mr. Dika says that, when he looks back, he’s always been interested in art even when he didn’t realize it.
“When we were kids, we used to play around in the neighborhood a lot. We used to recycle materials a lot. We’d take empty cans, and then, we’d recycle that into a little car, and then, we’d make little clay pieces, and I didn’t realize I was actually doing that intuitively until I got to high school and college. So it was just like a revival of something I’ve been doing since childhood,” he said.
Mr. Dika majored in industrial arts in college in Ghana and got several offers to pursue his MFA in the United States, settling on UD, where he received the A. Gray Magness Fellowship Award and the Penland School of Craft Full Vision Residency Program Scholarship.
He intends to receive his degree in May and believes he made the right choice coming to Delaware to study. He will continue to live, work and teach here after graduation.
“To be perfectly sincere, the stipends were very good. That was one deciding factor for me. I met a professor here, and she was very nice. But UD also offered me the opportunity for a multidisciplinary MFA program. So I could switch materials anytime I want. I could do metals, as well as sculpting. The other schools where I was accepted, it was strictly one medium, which I thought was a little boring for my taste. So I decided on UD because it was pretty flexible. I could decide to do welding or ceramics or clay or just use any material I want for my sculptures if I wanted to,” he said.
Mr. Dika has exhibited in Turkey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oregon and Virginia, among other spots. He also has a group show coming up in Germany in April.
While many of his works reflect his own struggle assimilating in America, Mr. Dika says he has become more comfortable living here as time has gone on.
“I think I’m actually getting used to the environment. It’s growing on me. I’m getting a sense of my environment, and it’s becoming easier every day for me to navigate my space. You’re always conscious of both environments. So inasmuch as I’m getting comfortable, I’m also realizing certain things are very different from my home environment every day, as well,” he said.
Mr. Dika will be on hand at the Biggs today for the opening reception from 5-8 p.m.
The opening will be held as a free community event in conjunction with Dover’s Citywide Black History Month Celebration. Masks are required to be worn inside the museum; light refreshments will be served. Walk-ins are welcome, but registration is strongly encouraged by going here.
Saturday will be First Saturday in Dover, during which the Biggs offers free admission and kids’ activities tied to the “Visions & Voices” exhibition.
One piece from the exhibit will be added to the Biggs’ permanent collection.
The final pieces selected for that honor are Kasmira Cade’s “Evergreen”; Wayson R. Jones’ “Cold North 2”; Theda Sandiford’s “Boa Quill”; Melissa Sutherland Moss’ “In Between the Two”; and Alisa White’s “Piano Lessons.”
Members of the community will choose the artwork that the Biggs will purchase through a vote. Visitors can vote in person through April 29.
On May 18 at 5:30 p.m., get an exclusive look at the work chosen, as the winning artist will lead a talk about themselves, their work and their piece. The artist will be joined by the Biggs’ curator of community and academic programs, Kristen Matulewicz, who will give insight into what drew the museum to nominate the piece.
Register online for tickets to that event or call 302-674-2111. The Biggs Museum is at 406 Federal St. in Dover.
Comedy at Milton Theatre
Lucas Bohn will perform stand-up comedy today at 8 p.m. at The Milton Theatre.
Mr. Bohn’s clean comedy has resulted in two albums and a Dry Bar special.
He has a blend of schoolboy charm and bad-boy charisma, and his shows are both smart and audacious.
The comedian has shared the stage with Dave Chapelle, Jimmy Fallon and Pablo Francisco, as well as placed as a runner-up in the Magners International Comedy Festival and was awarded Best of the Fest at the Detroit Comedy Festival.
In addition to performing on stage, Mr. Bohn does voice-overs and has been featured on PBS, CBS and Coastal Today. In 2013, he was nominated Comedy Performer of the Year by Campus Activities Magazine.
Tickets are available here or by calling 302-684-3038. The Milton Theatre is at 110 Union St.
Funds for the arts
At the end of January, four Delaware arts organizations — Art Works for All, The Delaware Contemporary, Delaware Shakespeare and the Wilmington Children’s Chorus — received either $50,000 or $100,000 American Rescue Plan grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
These four groups are among 567 nationwide — in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia — that will receive $57.75 million in non-matching funds to save jobs and to fund operations and facilities, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotional efforts to encourage attendance and participation.
New this weekend in theaters is the sci-fi film “Moonfall” and the comedy “Jackass Forever.”