Contemporary Art

Doreen Garner: The Artist Behind KING COBRA and Body Horror Sculptures

Errika Gerakiti 10 January 2024 min Read

KING COBRA, documented as Doreen Lynette Garner, is an impressive contemporary sculptor living and working in Brooklyn, New York City. Born in 1986 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Garner creates sculptures that evoke feelings of horror and awe. Even though the creations are brutal, they incorporate elements of beauty and fragility. The artist’s goal is to explore and raise awareness around traumatic medical histories of the Black body. Garner showcases the systems of objectification, false narratives, and deliberate historical oversights, as well as the racism Black women have faced during slavery and colonialism.

Doreen Garner graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014 with an MFA in Glass. However, as she has explained in an interview, she now prefers using silicone, as it has more common elements with the human body; they are both moldable. The outcome of silicone resembles much more to the human flesh than glass. This is how one of her nicknames, The Silicon Don, occurred.

 

doreen garner: Doreen Garner, Please God, I hope when I Die, it’ll be in the summertime, 2020. Mixed Media. Artist’s website.

Doreen Garner, Please God, I hope when I Die, it’ll be in the summertime, 2020. Mixed Media. Artist’s website.

Garner’s goal is to teach history, but not in a pleasant way. After all, a light approach to such matters would not have the same effect on the viewers. One of her artistic subjects is the horrific work of J. Marrion Sims, a man considered the father of modern gynecology. However, what most people do not know is how he gained his reputation.

The Dreadful Practices of J. Marion Sims

Sims used to perform experiments on enslaved Black women. Specifically, he operated on them without anesthesia or even their consent. He also opened up babies’ skulls, as he believed this would allow their brains to grow and expand. All these, and much more, were based on his conviction that Black people were inferior to whites, and they did not feel pain as they were physically and biologically different. Sims was not the only doctor who performed such heinous and abominable experiments. In fact, during the 1700s and 1800s, it was a common tactic of doctors to perform such experiments to promote and advance their careers.

doreen garner: Doreen Garner, Salome’s Revenge, 2023. Silicone, flocking powder, tattoo ink, dirt from J. Marion Sims’s grave, deli slicer, acrylic. Cultbytes.

Doreen Garner, Salome’s Revenge, 2023. Silicone, flocking powder, tattoo ink, dirt from J. Marion Sims’s grave, deli slicer, acrylic. Cultbytes.

It’s all these atrocities that Doreen Garner wants to commemorate. By creating physical objects, Garner creates an experience for the viewer. The experience is far more likely to educate and stay with the viewers than just reading about it. Thus, the experience is accompanied by all the necessary information regarding the grotesque sight.

It is also another way for the artist to simulate the emotions these women had. Consequently, the viewer leaves the room with information depicted in their thoughts in more ways than one. To make the impression even stronger, Doreen Garner also likes to use references from everyday places, like meat markets. So, whoever visits her exhibitions will think about what they learned while visiting such familiar places.

doreen garner: Doreen Garner, Red Rack of those Ravaged and Unconsenting, 2018, stainless steel bars, fluorescent lights, wiring, silicone, insulation foam, glass beads, fiberglass insulation, steel hooks, steel pins, pearls. ArtNews.

Doreen Garner, Red Rack of those Ravaged and Unconsenting, 2018, stainless steel bars, fluorescent lights, wiring, silicone, insulation foam, glass beads, fiberglass insulation, steel hooks, steel pins, pearls. ArtNews.

Elements of Beauty and Fragility

When one pays close attention to Doreen Garner’s sculptures, one can notice pearls, glass beads, crystals, and Swarovski. According to the artist, the grotesque has a great deal of beauty in it, even though beauty is different for each person.

 

AdVertisment

Most interested in art, whether professionally or out of personal interest, are familiar with the saying that art isn’t supposed to be pretty; it is supposed to make you feel something. This described perfectly Garner and her sculptures. They are not meant to be beautiful. They are meant to teach and make us feel and understand things beyond our usual experiences. This is why Doreen Garner is one of the most important and influential contemporary artists.

doreen garner: Doreen Garner, Untitled: Bondage, 2016. Silicone, lace, hair weave, gold chains, Swarovski crystals, twine, surgical table. Smack Mellon.

Doreen Garner, Untitled: Bondage, 2016. Silicone, lace, hair weave, gold chains, Swarovski crystals, twine, surgical table. Smack Mellon.

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