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making home here Debuts at the Mattress Factory

Photos by Tom Little

In September, the Mattress Factory opened a new exhibition entitled making home here. The work of five emerging and mid-career Pittsburgh-based artists are featured in the exhibition including Gavin Andrew Benjamin, Naomi Chambers, Justin Emmanuel Dumas, Njaimeh Njie and Harrison Kinnane Smith.

Co-curated by Sean Beauford, a Pittsburgh-based independent art producer and curator, and Sylvia Rhor Samaniego, the director and curator of the University Art Gallery at the University of Pittsburgh, the exhibition plays off the ideas of home and domestic space—home as both a place of dislocation and belonging, home as an imagined or public-facing space, and an intimate place that holds family stories and aspirations.

The five artists explore liminality, placemaking, familial bonds and systemic racism’s impact on the housing market. Working across a range of mediums and playing off the domestic spaces of the Mattress Factory Annex, the artists mine personal and public histories to create immersive environments that welcome visitors to enter and contemplate what it means to create a home.

Anchoring the exhibition is the physical location of the Museum; the artists and co-curators see the Northside as a part of the show. making home here will strengthen Pittsburgh’s connections with arts professionals, both as artist and curator, and will introduce thousands of local residents to new works and artists.

The title of the exhibition, making home here, stems from the following passage in bell hook’s Appalachian Elegy (2012), a poetry collection in which the author reflects on finding home in the backwoods of Kentucky.

The exhibition will run from September 2021 through late spring 2022.


Gavin Andrew Benjamin is a multi-faceted artist born in Guyana and raised in Brooklyn. His current work focuses on his long-time interest in flowers, still-life, landscapes, portraits, and collage mixed with courtly painting traditions; a mash-up of sorts.

Naomi Chambers is a Pittsburgh-based painter and assemblage artist; she also runs The Flower House in Wilkinsburg. The Flower House is a creative space cultivated by group-centered artists who practice cooperative economics to empower women and families.

Justin Emmanuel Dumas' work understands the surface as narrative, marks, abrasions, wounds, and repairs that become gesture. The combined presence of these gestures manifest as the spectral evidence of human agency and present a moment for re-collection and the excavation of public memory.

Njaimeh Njie is a photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia producer. Her practice centers everyday people, narratives, and landscapes, with a particular focus on how Black people perceive themselves and their experiences in the places they call home. Njaimeh is the Founder/Lead Producer of the nonfiction storytelling company Eleven Stanley Productions, and she earned her B.A in Film and Media Studies from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010.

Harrison Kinnane Smith is an artist whose work explores the interactions between material systems (ecologies, commercial networks) and immaterial structures (policies, ideologies, social culture). Harrison lives in Pittsburgh, where he works as an art educator and an editor of the Bunker Review.


Sean Beauford is a Pittsburgh-based independent curator and producer whose work centers emerging talent and underrepresented voices. He has collaborated with August Wilson African American Cultural Center, the Pittsburgh International Airport, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, among others. He currently works at the Carnegie Museum of Art where he manages community relationships and teen programs.

Sylvia Rhor Samaniego is the director and curator of the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh, where she Sylvia earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of Pittsburgh, and a B.A. in Studio Art and Art History from New York University, where she was a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar. Her research focuses on intersection of labor, immigration and radical mural painting of the 1930s in Chicago and Pittsburgh. She has worked at museums in New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. In her museum work, Sylvia focuses on creating exhibitions and programs that connect to community and question the so-called best practices of museum culture.

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