The American artist Stacy Elko had a long relationship with Morocco, where she lived from 1988 to 1998. Stacy arrived in Morocco in 1988 as a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to Skoura as a beekeeper, and subsequently to Tiznit with Peace Corps’ health and sanitation program. After 4 years of service ending in 1992, she stayed in Morocco an additional 6 years, supporting herself as an artist. I came to Morocco in 1990, also as a Peace Corps volunteer, and it was during this time we became friends.
Stacy looked wild, with intricate tattoos, some of which she’d done herself, covering much of her body. I don’t recall when or why we started talking, but I was surprised at how soft-spoken, kind and unassuming she was. She often wore traditional clothing while traveling in Morocco, so as not to stand out, yet she left an indelible impression on anyone who got to know her. It wasn’t just tattoos that did so, nor was it her capacity to astonish Moroccans by speaking fluent dialectal Arabic or Soussi Tamazight when the latter was essentially under siege in Morocco. Of course, these things left an impression, but what really made Stacy memorable was her boundless creativity. You can see this in the 1997 painting “Three Men” that she donated to the Tangier American Legation, and it became even more evident as her artistic career progressed. She moved beyond this kind of realistic painting into an increasingly fantastical realm.
Born in Ohio to a family of Polish ancestry, Stacy spent a year in Poland between her decade in Morocco returning to the US where she continued to pursue her career artistic career. In addition to numerous exhibitions and other artistic projects, she received an MFA in Printmaking from Indiana University. She also taught at Indiana University and the Rhode Island School of Design before her 2005 appointment as Associate Professor of Art at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Stacy created striking, thought-provoking art in a variety of media. In Morocco she was primarily a painter, working with watercolors, oils, and pastels, but before she event left Morocco, her work had started to take on bigger dimensions. This is the period represented by “Three Men.” Eventually, her work also became bolder, progressively moving into the space between realistic representation and the field of imagination.
In 1999, I and my fellow graduate students at Binghamton University invited Stacy to participate in our Maghrebi Arts Festival where she exhibited an enormous canvas of a boy asleep beneath a tree, around which swarmed all sorts of mythic creatures. The piece could easily be viewed as depicting the stuff of nightmares, yet it was captivatingly sublime. It was a static image that captured a fantastical narrative, rooted in the folklore of southern Morocco, and expressed through Stacy’s imagination.
This was just a stop in her artistic journey. As she explains on her website, her focus shifted
to works laden tangential metaphors, steeped in hermetic symbolism. Upon returning to the United States, I explored ideas relating to personal fragmentation and developed a series of works concerning catharsis. The nature of printmaking is transformative systems and suspended recompense, the release is the process and product of printmaking. I represented this fragmenting through identifying and creating conceptual places of significance.-Elko, Stacy. “Statement of Artistic Practice.” https://www.stacyelko.com/, 2014. https://www.stacyelko.com/ArtistStatement.html. Accessed Nov. 24, 2020. Archived at https://perma.cc/4N9D-5KS4
In what appears to be the last series she completed before her passing, I see elements of the themes she explored in the painting that was at the center of her exhibition in Binghamton. The cultural context has shifted from Morocco’s Sous region to Slavic folklore, and her work has taken on the dimensionality of a multimedia installation, but it still explores the landscape of the imagination across the terrain of both individual and collective memory. Admittedly, I’ve not been fortunate enough to see them in person. I’ve only seen photographs like those she shared on her website, but I find those pieces captivatingly striking, a bit like the artist herself.
Stacy’s creativity was boundless. In addition to paintings, prints, installations, video, digital projects, and collaborative works, her artistic output includes two novels and a children’s book, written under the pseudonym of Sekji Ani.
It has taken me some time to write this piece about Stacy because it is hard to know what to say in memory of a woman who constantly defied clichés and stereotypes in her life and in her art. Let me just end with this. Stacy may have passed away on August 26, 2020, but she leaves behind an impressive body of work, and an indelible impression on all who knew her.
–Michael Toler, November 24, 2020