Meet Sharif Bey

Profile May 4, 2020

Sharif Bey is a sculptor inspired by modernism, functional pottery, Oceanic and African art, and the art of the African diaspora. A Pittsburgh native, Bey spent his formative years visiting Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Now, he is collaborating with us for an upcoming project. Bey returned to Pittsburgh earlier this year to excavate both museum collections and dream up new work.

A tall sculpture with a narrow, cylindrical base covered in colored shards of porcelain; a tall earthenware figure sits atop the base
Sharif Bey, Ceremonial Vessel #5, 2017, Carnegie Museum of Art. © Sharif Bey.

As a young person visiting Carnegie Museum of Art, artist Sharif Bey remembers being asked, “What do you respond to?” One answer? Birds and bird forms in art. In early March, Bey visited the bird study collections at Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) with collections manager Steve Rogers. Not only are these specimens visually arresting, but they provide data for scientific researchers across the globe.

An arrangement of bird specimens of different pastel blues and golds laid on their backs in a series of concentric circles
Bird study specimens, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 2020. Photo courtesy Rachel Delphia.

In February, Bey visited the vertebrate paleontology collections at CMNH with collections manager Amy Henrici and curatorial assistant Linsly Church. Can you tell how excited Bey is to make new artwork based on vertebrae from Apatosaurus parvus? We can’t wait! Bey is holding resin replicas in this photo and imagining them as components of a future sculpture.

A man wearing a dark green blazer and black hat smiles, holding a segment of large vertebrae replicas
Artist Sharif Bey poses with a resin replica of the vertebrae of Apatosaurus parvus, a dinosaur from Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 2020. Photo courtesy Rachel Delphia

Sharif Bey has long been fascinated with the sculptural forms inherent in functional objects. During a visit to CMNH’s anthropology section in March, he examined Yoruba agricultural axes with collections manager Deborah Harding.

A man wearing a gray t-shirt, cap, and gloves stands at one end of a long table covered with a variety of axes; a woman sits down next to the table
Sharif Bey and Carnegie Museum of Natural History collections manager Deborah Harding examine Yoruba agricultural axes, 2020. Photo courtesy Rachel Delphia

Bey is quick to credit the many people who influenced his development as an artist—those whose artwork inspired him, like sculptors Isamu Noguchi or Constantin Brancusi, and those who made artistic practice seem like a viable vocation, like the artists he met at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild as a teenaged apprentice in ceramics. Pittsburgh sculptor Thaddeus Mosley (b. 1926) did both. In March, Bey visited Mosley’s studio to see new work and catch up with his friend of more than 30 years.

Two men stand in an artist’s studio next to a waist-height wooden sculpture with their arms around each other, smiling at the viewer
Artists Thaddeus Mosley (left) and Sharif Bey (right) pose in Mosley’s studio on the North Shore in Pittsburgh, 2020. Photo courtesy Rachel Delphia