With her new multimedia exhibition, “A Moment to Breathe,” at The Theater at the Museum of Arts and Design, or MAD, leather artisan and designer Mia Wright-Ross wants visitors to exhale and grieve.
On view Friday through April 11, the installation features a film, created with Akeema-Zane and Starnilas Oge, as well as other performance and sensory components that are intended to examine the healing process as it relates to grief. Designed to remind people of the human connection to luxury crafts, the exhibition is also meant to create a greater appreciation for artisans of all backgrounds.
”I think people should focus on artisans of all different types,” she said. “Yes, I am a Black person and I am having a Black experience as a Black woman. I am specifically having these feelings as they relate to grief and to my healing process. And this is a process that I am actively operating in as a craftsperson. Black craftspeople, we carry things that are coming from different levels of lineage.”
As a MAD artist fellow, Wright-Ross’ residency was supposed to run from February through August of last year. When the museum closed temporarily in March, she relocated her studio from MAD’s sixth floor to her home. In turn, her residency was extended for a full year to allow for enough time to plan out the exhibition and build the work into a fully encompassing idea.
“I really want to make sure that people identify that we have been through a lot and we are presently going through a lot. And it’s OK to feel those things,” Wright-Ross said.
Focused on grief practice and healing, the exhibition and the film are Wright-Ross’ exploration of the passing of both her grandmother and her great grandmother and the encompassing memories. Highly personal as that material is, the sentiment and experience is not unfamiliar to others, she said. The multisensory installation is intended to have visitors share in her feelings of loss, love and the waves of memories entwined within.
“I really want people to come in and feel what they have to feel, and to grieve through the emotions that come up and arise watching the film and experiencing the installation,” Wright-Ross said.
Wright-Ross also said she wanted to include her community in the project in every possible way that she could. Organizing the exhibition with the museum, she said she knew that everyone, not just the artists in residence, had endured a lot in the past year and she aimed to capture that uniquely.
Hence, the more layered approach with sound, scent, moving image and lighting was needed. That nudges visitors away from thinking, “OK, I’m the audience. I’m a viewer. I’m just looking,’” Wright-Ross said. “I had to think about how the museum has an amazing, budding community of disabled people, hearing-impaired people and the elderly. I wanted to make sure that the space appreciated everything that we all exist in as human beings — socially and sensory.”
The bass of the film, for example, is loud enough for the visually impaired to feel the vibrations, she said.
After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Wright-Ross started making handbags and opened her own business in 2016. While working at Phillip Lim, Calvin Klein and Tibi, she was always upfront in job interviews about her noncompetitive side project. Over time, the intensity of the fashion industry, as well as the increased globalization and industrialization, made Wright-Ross seek a different path that was “close, artisanal and something that she could feel through.”
Initially, the bags she made were gifts for relatives. Over time, stylists and other friends started requesting them and she nurtured it, creating the MWR Collection, which continues today. With an “immense amount of work,” she is looking for a studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., to accommodate private orders and viewings.
A select amount of MWR merchandise will be sold via MAD’s store.