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Artist Molly Sydnor Weaves Through Her Identity in a Sweet Tooth Hotel Exhibition

Artist Molly Sydnor inside her Temporal Jungle at Sweet Tooth Hotel.
Artist Molly Sydnor inside her Temporal Jungle at Sweet Tooth Hotel. Rachel Mathews
The word “identity” carries a lot of weight in Molly Sydnor’s life; at the moment, that means a weight of 15 books and a few hundred pounds of yarn.

The Dallas-based multidisciplinary artist grew up in Milwaukee, where she spent a good chunk of her early years playing sports. She always figured she’d be an athlete, at least through college.

But, that trajectory was flipped when Sydnor was involved in a car accident when she was just 17 years old. While being treated in the hospital for injuries, doctors diagnosed her with a heart condition. Playing sports would only exacerbate the problem. She had to get a pacemaker. Sydnor was battling a lifelong medical issue, abruptly altering the course of her life. 

That change in trajectory was only a blip on her timeline in the big scheme of things, however. The real challenge, since as far back as she could remember, was constantly having to describe who she was. Particularly concerning her own family. 

“I always had to explain,” Sydnor says with a light laugh. “I’m still trying to figure it out. Right now I have a stack of 15 books about identity.” 

Sydnor’s father is Black, a direct descendent of enslaved people, she says, and her mother is of German and Irish heritage. They had four kids. 

“I’m the lightest, lighter than my mom. But, I look exactly like my dad, the very same physical features that are African American,” she says. “In my family, there are two boys, two girls, two queer, two straight, two dark and two light. A lot of people thought that I was white. I white-passed. I could easily fall into that privilege and never look back.”

But, that would mean turning away from who she is, which isn’t an option.

"You can't erase someone's identity based on your experience," she says adding that her father was always asked if he was a Packer in Wisconsin.

Sydnor’s most notable physical characteristic is a head full of thick blond curls. She's queer and biracial. Her life has been, and at times still is, a series of imposter syndrome episodes, code-switching and assimilating. She can white-pass or straight-pass, then around the next corner be biracial and bisexual. 

Sorting through the complexity of those options is what all the books and yarn are for.
click to enlarge RACHELL MATHEWS
Rachell Mathews
Buying In
About the time Sydnor was diagnosed with a heart condition, she was preparing for college. Instead of running on a court wearing a jersey with a college mascot on it, she’d have to find a new path. Because she’s always been good at art, her parents encouraged her to explore her creative side. She enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. 

At first, she thought it was all a total farce. She struggled with finding her style. She was frustrated, even considered quitting. She was homesick. Her mom told her to push through.

“I could look at a piece of art and see others' style in it. I would know who created it without seeing the name on the piece," she says. "But, I didn’t see that in my own art. I felt like my work was a bunch of segmented projects."

Her roommate saw in Sydnor exactly what Sydnor saw in others. Her art did, in fact, parallel her own life, her friend explained. Whether she knew it or not, the artist was morphing her narrative into something tactile and meaningful. That affirmation was a tipping point. 

A Fiber Fairytale
After receiving a bachelor of fine arts in fiber, Sydnor landed a job in Dallas as a product developer specializing in rug design. She continues to explore her art while also holding down a corporate job. 

Last year, Sydnor got an opportunity to dive deeper, by way of Sweet Tooth Hotel, a boutique art venue in Victory Park in downtown Dallas. 

Owner Jencey Keeton says she created the art space to serve as a platform for emerging artists to test work they’ve always dreamed of creating. For the past two years, they’ve invited a new group of artists to participate in annual themed exhibitions. Prior to COVID-19, Keeton had hoped that the addition of a bar, stage and art classes would draw in more creative types, including musicians, DJs and photographers. For now, that’s on hold; visitors are allowed to experience the installations, but social-distancing protocols are strictly enforced throughout all the exhibitions. (If you’re a person who prefers to observe art alone, this is a gift.) 

The current exhibition, Intangible - A Fiber Fairytale, features Dallas artists and others from across the United States.

“The exhibit is incredible because all of the fiber artists started working more than one year ago to create their installations and a Craft Yarn Council member donated more than 2.5 million linear feet of yarn to make this possible,” Keeton says. 

The original idea was to allow artists to create their own whimsical fairytale world completely made from fiber.

click to enlarge A yarn-covered room at the Sweet Tooth Hotel. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
A yarn-covered room at the Sweet Tooth Hotel.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Temporal Jungle —  a Juxtaposition
Sydnor’s display specifically, which takes up the largest room in Sweet Tooth Hotel, is called Temporal Jungle. She describes it as a juxtaposition of childhood experiences and adult memories, a weaving together of childhood memories and grown-up narratives.

“It’s provoked by my own memories,” Sydnor says. 

click to enlarge Sydnor describes Temporal Jungle as a provocation of experiences. - RACHEL MATHEWS
Sydnor describes Temporal Jungle as a provocation of experiences.
Rachel Mathews
Case in point, a stripper pole on a small platform in the middle of the room with a fun hoop at the top (an old-school playground staple).

“I don’t want to oversexualize it,” Sydnor says. “The stripper pole puts you in a situation where there are multiple right answers. A nod to childhood and adulthood. Lies we were told when we’re young. Trying to preserve the innocence of childhood. It’s not supposed to trigger a stripper pole; there’s a fun hoop at the top, so you can see the duality of both.” 

The room itself has a vibrant and warm sensuality to it. It’s an explosion of bright colors, muted by the soft textures of the yarn. At first glance, it feels like a hurricane-ravaged textile factory, but with just a tad bit of immersion, carefully engineered layers and structures are revealed. 

The installation includes a set of monkey bars and all the subsequent playground memories that hang from them. This rigid structure contrasts with a skirt of translucent fringe shimmering in the air atop the stripper pole.

Hard lines, bold squares and exact cross patterns are flanked by cascading blobs of fringe. 

"The whole installation brings you back to innocence, but also has adult connotations," Sydnor says.

Sydnor says that for her, the art was intended to navigate the bisexual and biracial parallels in her life, and after pondering the one message she wants visitors to walk away with, after a thoughtful pause she lands on, “It’s 'identity.'” 

It's an issue she’s been weaving through her entire life. Temporal Jungle is a tactile way to explore and consider it. 

Sweet Tooth Hotel is open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday; Sunday 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Closed Mondays. 
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.