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Carmel Irons Anderson

Carmel Anderson of Ketchikan combines painting and sculpture in her installations. Her work often focuses on the inner strength and wisdom of women.


  • Project Award
  • Visual Arts

‘The Dress Fell Down’

An ace bandage has never looked so elegant. It clings loosely to the torso of a headless female manikin. It suggests an exhausted surrendering of a battle long-fought. It’s a piece called “Bound”, in artist Carmel Anderson’s last installation, “Unheard Voices | Unheard Wisdom.” The bandage is soiled, blackened in parts, and paired with a floor-length rumpled violet skirt. The ensemble is delicately eerie, like you stumbled upon a secret scene you’re not supposed to see but cannot stop watching.

The subject of that installation was domestic violence and sexual assault, and the soft delicacy of her pieces is not an accident. “I often make them look beautiful because I want to give them respect, to these survivors, because I feel like they deserve dignity,” Anderson explained.

Her voice is soft, calm and powerful. She’s a woman of books, intimate chats with her daughters, and piles of afghans. She thinks interest in self-help books would decline if people spent more time listening to elders. It is hard to imagine her livid. It is also hard to imagine misbehaving around her. Not out of fear, but because her presence encourages one’s best self, a subject she has actively explored over the last few years.

“I see women who went through some hardships in life, and some went on to live beautiful lives and some were very angry,” Anderson said. “Some of what I saw was choice, but I also saw unhealed wounds.”

If these wounds and other difficult subjects were acknowledged, it could set the stage for leading one’s best life. And Anderson, who is a strong believer in unique assets, that we all have gifts, says her purpose is to use her work to bring a voice to the wounded, to take on difficult subjects, through conversation, awareness and deconstructing assumptions.

Another concept Anderson thinks about is the spectrum of behavior of which we’re all capable. The notion that everyone has the potential for real greatness, or the ability to cause harm, and recognizing these abilities in oneself can unlock compassion.

“I think it scares people to know they can have evil in them. It makes me nervous when there are people that think they’re above doing anything wrong or bad. Some people have harder choices.”

One’s environment and collection of life experiences can help promote or suppress various behaviors.

“Those blessed with nice families and a safe upbringing can overlook that other people face incredible odds or challenges.” Amazing people come from hardship, she said.

Anderson’s installation work combines sculpture and painting with her experience as a former New York fashion designer. She likes that while there’s intention in each creation, there isn’t one strict and particular narrative conveyed by each piece.

“Every viewer goes up to art with a whole different history and experience. Everyone can take something different away from the art. I think art can reach people where logic and reason can’t.”

Her piece “Bound,” with the ace bandage, exemplifies this. It even defied Anderson’s intention. She deliberately bound the torso’s arms tightly together, but when she stepped back, the fingers were barely touching, and as she watched, the wrapping came undone, leaving one end hanging.

“I just shuddered because I knew that’s what the piece was supposed to be.”

Her piece “Controlled” is another example. It consists of two hands supporting strings below which a sheer, translucent, off-white long robe or collared dress is hung. Upon first assembly it looked playful, like a marionette, which wasn’t Anderson’s objective.

“And then it just fell. The dress fell down. I had it loosely tied up and it just slid to the floor. Installation work has a greater power in that some of the pieces I really believe create themselves.”

Amanda T. K. Compton is a freelance writer and audio producer from Southcentral living in Juneau. She received an Individual Artist Award in 2014.

Image credits - Gallery images 1-2 courtesy of the artist, image 3 by Amanda T. K. Compton, image 4 courtesy of the artist, image 5 by Amanda T. K. Compton, image 6 courtesy of the artist. Artist portrait courtesy of the artist. Writer portrait courtesy of the writer.