BYU Studies Quarterly

BYU Studies Quarterly


Josh E. Probert


Mormon studies, Valerie Atkisson, artwork, family history


Valerie Atkisson, an artist who lives in the Bronx, New York, exemplifies a generation of Mormon artists who are at home navigating the world of Contemporary art while maintaining their personal and spiritual identity. Family history, transgenerational inquiry, and relatedness have been the majority subjects of Atkisson’s work thus far. “What began as an interest in my ancestors has turned into an insatiable desire to know as much about them as possible,” she says. “[My work] is a continuation of them, not just that my flesh and blood are a part of them, but the remembrance is also an extension of their life.” Although a broad demographic of gallery visitors have received Atkisson’s work, it has the potential to resonate with Latter-day Saint audiences in a unique way because it intersects with and animates Mormon thought—thought that places relationships not just in the realm of sociology but also in theology. In capturing the essence of her work, Atkisson wrote the following for a gallery guide:

I stand peering into the past

An overload of names, dates, and places faces me crying for closer inspection.

Stories, lives, uprootings, and landscapes tighten the blur surrounding each ancestor.

By focusing on an individual of whom I am a fraction,

I better understand what I am made of physically, mentally, and spiritually.