Nancy Baker Cahill is a visual artist living in Los Angeles. Her drawings, paper sculptures, and videos treat the idea of the human body as a complicated abstraction: corporeally real, yet unknowable, and mediated by external forces. She received her B.A. cum laude with Honors in Art from Williams College. From 2010-2012 she initiated and led a collaborative art project at Homeboy Industries called “Exit Wounds.” Works from this project were exhibited throughout Los Angeles as part of the Craft and Folk Art Museum’s “Folk Art Everywhere” program through 2013. From 2006 – 2011 she served on the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency’s Public Art Advisory Board. She is the recipient of an ARC Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation. Exhibition highlights include the Pasadena Museum of California Art, The Torrance Art museum, and various galleries. Press highlights include a profile in KCET’s award-winning “Artbound” series and the Los Angeles Times. In 2015 she designed and led a collage workshop with homeless individuals under the aegis of the Craft and Folk Art Museum. She is a member of the Pasadena Art Alliance and a board member at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions).


My small and large-scale drawings treat the idea of the human body as a complicated abstraction: corporeally real, yet unknowable, engaged in perpetual struggle. Nothing appears whole; folds of flesh, explosions of hair, ropy tendons and sinew pull and push against and through each other. I mine the tension between extremes of mass and void, stasis and motion, erotic and a-sexual forms. My intention is for viewers to experience empathic self-reflection as they consider their bodies and the bodies of others as engaged in an ongoing, unsettled contest— filled with vulnerability, strength, discomfort, and defiance.

In Aftermath, her book on violent trauma and the body, Susan J. Brison introduces the concept of a mathematical “surd” as a metaphor for irreversible chaos and disruption in an otherwise linear life path, following her own horrific sexual assault. A surd is an irrational number that, when placed in a predictable series of rational numbers, destroys all pre-existing coherence. Translated, it means “non-sense,” and “voiceless.” My recent Surd drawings engage this metaphor through the juxtaposition of gridded, “predictable” sequences of holes punctured through the skin-like surfaces of chaotic body forms. My aim is to explore the human “rational” desire for understanding through order and logic when faced with the nonsensical. I want to dissect notions of power moving over and through the body, while embracing their intrinsic mutability.

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SURDS and MANIFESTOS: The Drawings of Nancy Baker Cahill by Grace Linden