Sharif Bey: Excavations will be displayed through March of next year.By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A man who grew up in Beltzhoover and used to come to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History for art classes is now back at the Carnegie with his own show as a featured artist.

KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen walked through the exhibition with Dr. Sharif Bey, an artist and art professor at Syracuse University, talking about how the museum inspired him to be an artist and inspired the work in the show.

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For Bey, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History are a second home. He began coming for art classes in fourth grade, so to return as an artist with his own show is overwhelming.

“I’m here. I’m a kid who grew up with relatively limited means, a kid of color, and I’m exhibiting in an institution that kind of emerged out of the philanthropy of one of the United State’s first millionaires,” Bey said.

“I grew up in this museum, and I like to point out when people ask that you can walk from one of my pieces to a Van Gogh in 20 paces from here, and I think that demystifies what it means to be an artist, what it means to have a career in the arts, what it means to find fulfillment. (That) is the narrative that I want to come out of someone experiencing this exhibition.”

Between art classes, Bey says he would wander the galleries of both museums and that that downtime had as much influence as the classes themselves. He showed Sorensen one of the original pieces from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s collection of African art that is on display beside his own work.

“So this is one of the objects that evoked a lot of curiosity for me as a child, and I didn’t read a whole lot about it, but I had a sense of wonder about where this object came from. How does it function? And that mystery was something I later came back to.”

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The exhibit, Sharif Bey: Excavations, features his original work side by side with pieces from the museums, like a historic African wood and clay sculpture with nails jutting out of most of its body. It clearly resembles Bey’s clay vessels, some figurative, that are impaled with nails and broken china.

In another series of work, Bey used actual bone molds from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to make what became a symbolic necklace in his series of oversized necklace forms, some as large as 11 feet.

Bey also lets generations of totems play off one another. He displays two totems his own father carved from wood as a child side by side with clubs from Brazil from the Natural History Museum, both of which inspired him to make clay totem sculptures.

Pittsburgh is part of Bey, so it’s natural that his hometown comes through in his art.

“This is a boilermaker series which kind of references industrial Pittsburgh in a certain way but also references the famous beer cocktail, the boilermaker, as this is a drinking vessel in its inception. It has lots of different kinds of metal but also different kinds of industrial claims like shards added to it.”

Pittsburgh is proud of its champions, and that includes in the world of art as well.

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You can see “Sharif Bey: Excavations” at the Carnegie Museum of Art through the beginning of March.

Kristine Sorensen