The Ballot AND the Bullet
handmade ballot box, and table; forged steel; cast resin; paint; brass pad lock; 15 x 28 x 55 inches; 2018.
Inspired in part, by Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech Give us the ballot, and Malcolm X’s speech The Ballot or the Bullet, this work renders the right to vote as an action fraught with existential risk. Historically, this has not been a hyperbolic conjecture when it comes to black folk. Many African Americans were murdered simply for trying to exercise their constitutional right. The contemporary practice of gerrymandering which has deep roots that extend to Jim Crow practices, threatens to render mute the voices of the marginalized and the dispossessed. The AND in the title links the philosophical ideas of King’s words to those of Malcolm’s. It is a reckoning with the inherent threats associated with the act of voting—some past, some present.
silkscreen on paper; handmade wagon; donkey figurine, and book; Dimensions: wagon: w 15” x L 56” x h 24”; 2018.
This work investigates the malleability of language vis-a-vis the black vernacular tradition—how meaning is not a fixed construct, but rather a fluid, ever evolving system of signs, one of which, can signify multiple meanings. The word pun haulin’ ass is interpreted objectively and metaphorically here—the juxtaposition of the twin iterations conflates the realities of police brutality and the sly wit of the literal representation of the phrase.
donkey figurine; copy of Manchild in the Promised Land
Haulin’ Ass (detail); serigraph on paper; 19” x 23.5”; 2018.
Those Winter Sundays: Elegy for Robert Hayden
charcoal on wood panel, paint on wood; window; typewriter, stairs, door fragment, and shoes; 2019.
Robert Hayden served as the first African American poet laureate, even though the title was not yet the official name for the position, his duties nevertheless mirrored those associated with the appointment today. His poem Those Winter Sundays, in which a son remembers the selfless sacrifice of his father, has been a sustained source of inspiration for me. Hayden was born in 1913 in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in the impoverished neighborhood of Paradise Alley. In college he studied with the British-American poet W.H. Auden, whose structure and thematic concerns influenced Hayden’s work. A committed Baha’i, Hayden’s belief in the oneness of mankind placed him at variance with the emerging black power movement of the 1960’s. He was dismissed by some as being too passive for the strident polemics of the emerging separatist political philosophies. His work, which often looks at history through the prism of the black experience, resonates with an enduring, haunting power.
Requiem for One of Many
silkscreen on wood panel; red clay; cloth; cotton; rope; hair; rust; paint; nails, and ladder; 2013.
To Trap a Trickster
photo projection; audio file; wood; copper leaf; ceramics; paint; earth, and rope; 2017-18’
Inspired in part, by the complicity of the Catholic church in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, this multi-media work casts the iconic Christian dome structure of Portugal, as a trapping device. A photo projection of a slave ship is framed by the dome's base. The black rabbit references Legba, the Yoruba trickster deity. He is the conceptual inspiration of the Brer Rabbit tales and Bugs Bunny. In the context of this work, the hare represents the millions of enslaved Africans imported via the port of Salvador, Brazil. The enduring question is: whom is ensnaring whom? The state has the temporal power to hold the body, but the dominion of the soul endures.
ceramic; paint; rope, and earth
Spanning 72 inches in diameter Constellation attempts to articulate the anxiety of black boys existing in spaces of tension between points of safety and threatened destruction. The disembodied feet are placed at the vortex of a series of hive-like structures (made of joined and carved wood covered with hair; copper sheeting; cotton; red clay; paint; cloth; and wax. The forms operate multivalently suggesting domesticity and community on the one hand, and--as their conical, projectile like shape implies--potential annihilation on the other. The absent figure exists in this "oscillating space of engaged tensions", as the writer and critic Kellie Jones so eloquently articulates it. The materials tie the work to a historical narrative rooted in physical labor while the disembodied feet imply an erasure of identity.
Constellation (detail); cast resin; pigment, and wood
Constellation (excerpt); cotton, and rope
Constellation (excerpt); wood, and red clay
Constellation (excerpt); turned wood, and pigment
Constellation (excerpt); wood, and copper sheeting
Constellation (excerpt); wood, and hair
Poetics of the Disembodied; 2016
Tight Packers: A Depleted Harvest
49 x 4 x 122 inches; 2016.
Tight Packers takes its conceptual inspiration from a 19th century term used to refer to a method for packing slaving vessels that relied on forcing as many people as possible into the hold of the ship to maximize profit at port. The practice was ill conceived however, as the crowded conditions made the ships breeding grounds of pestilence and disease. I have re-appropriated the term here to refer to the disproportionate number of black and brown men confined in U.S. prisons. Composed of 90 sardines cans--fitted with graphite renderings of black men and inscribed with prison identification numbers--the confined spaces collapse time as they link the marginalized places black bodies were forced to dwell in the past to those in the present. The class graduation photo at the heart of the installation is augmented by the ghostly registry of the missing. The silhouettes articulate our collective sense of loss of potential--of human capital--of our most precious resource.
Tight Packers (excerpt); graphite on wood and tin; sardine can.
Poetics of the Disembodied (installation view)
36x18x144 inches; 2016.
Inspired by a passage from Isabel Wilkerson's extraordinary book The Warmth of Other Suns, this mixed media work speaks to the legacy of economic disenfranchisement inherited by the descendants of enslaved African Americans. The plane personifies an aspirational impulse for transcendence, but in the context of this work it is weighed down by a burden that impedes its ascension. The oversized cotton sack is tethered to the tail section rendering the vehicle inert. The sculpture subverts the inference that the disproportionate representation of African Americans amongst the poor represents a predisposition towards poverty. The reality is quite different. In a moving section of the book Wilkerson writes: "Multiplied over generations, it (slavery and Jim Crow) would mean a wealth deficit between the races that would require a miracle windfall or a near asceticism on the part of colored families if they were to have any chance of catching up..."
forged steel; resin; serigraph on wood; stones; salvaged wood flooring; drinking fountain; spigot; segregation sign; dimensions are variable.; 2016.
Description: Conceived to honor the freedom riders whose non-violent protest was waged to integrate interstate busing, this sprawling installation is composed of a series of ten silk screened mugshot images of protesters arranged sequentially--each with a loaded slingshot facing them. At the heart of the installation a dividing wall separates a porcelain drinking fountain from a spigot. Above, a vintage segregation sign designates white and colored only. Clusters of stones rest on the floor beneath the photographs suggesting the blows endured to actualize a higher ideal. The work is augmented by a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King; "unearned suffering is redemptive."
Freedoms Price (excerpt)
serigraph and resin on wood panel
Freedoms Price (excerpt)
serigraph and resin on wood panel
Freedoms Price (performance Still)
A Snare for Ezekiel Charles
Charcoal and powdered graphite on wood; steel chain; animal snare, and mulch; 2016.
17” x 80” x 72”
Root/Anchor & A Sentiment
Made of forged steel, cast resin hands, charred rope and a pillow, this work attempts to contextualize the burden of bearing difficult memories. The black hands cradle the partially charred rope fragment. The torched hemp suggests a painful recollection without being specific. Does it refer to a lynching or some other memory? The pillow is a mothering apparatus which supports and comforts the grief of the living--those left to bear the weight of memory.
Root/Anchor after Gober
resin; woven dread locks; steel anchor; 2016.
This work references the grounding force of cultural memory. The rope--made of woven hair--speaks to the interdependence of community. The anchor tethers the collective to ancestral memory while the cast foot implies an impulse for mobility.
Listeners/Witnesses of the Trade
resin; clam shells; sand; video footage; audio; 2016.
Description: Inspired by the Gullah Geechie communities of the Georgia sea islands, this mixed media installation is meant to honor the spirits of the millions of Africans who died in transport to the 'new world.' The clam shells are fitted with cast resin ears which are placed on a bed of sand sourced from Sapelo island, home to an enduring Gullah community that maintains a culture closely linked to West Africa. The time lapse video of the encroaching sea suggests the watery grave of the dead. The audio recording of the seashore sets a rhythmic meter as the voice of a young girl chanting an Islamic prayer can be heard over it. The work affirms the history of Islam in America as nearly one third of Africans forced into slavery were Muslims. The first slave bought to Sapelo was a man named Bilal which literally translates to 'the first to believe in the Prophet.'
Witnesses Listeners of the Trade by Masud Olufani
Poetics of the Disembodied (installation view); MOCA GA; 2016
Carved bass wood; woven dread locks; shears; paint, and wax; 2013.
This work combines a playful gesture with a harsh reality. The jump rope is made of woven dreadlocks referencing the familial bond. The disembodied hands, made of carved bass wood, wield the rope in a 'ready' position. The shears threaten to sever connection. The impending action heightens the tension between the child-like activity of jumping rope and the betrayal of innocence.
To Cut (detail); woven dread locks, and shears; 2013.
trumpet; serigraph on cloth, and suitcase; 2012.
This mixed medium work contextualizes the itinerant life of a traveling musician and the impact that lifestyle has on relationships. The open suitcase is screen printed with a letter that attempts to comfort the loved ones left behind. The suitcase becomes a mediator of competing impulses: one that necessitates the sustained mobility the life of a blues man demands; the other longing for the stability of enduring connections.
For Elias and Sarah
Forged steel; wood; clothe bags; cotton; tobacco; coffee; serigraph on fabric; dye, and rust; 72 inches high; 2011.
Based in part on the schematic renderings of slavery punishment apparatus from the 19th century, this work reinterprets the brutal nature of the steel collar transforming into into a symbol of nobility and dignity. The abstracted figures--one male, and one female--are draped in a seamless skin of cloth pouches stuffed with cotton; coffee, and tobacco. The images of enslaved African Americans have been silk screened on the surface, and rust and dye has been used to age the fabric. The forms echo religious figurines known as nkisi nkondi from the Kongo people of Central Africa.
Cast bronze, and woven dread locks; 2012.
The cast bronze house is a reproduction of a slave cabin while the woven basket form serves as a trapping device that arrests memory and preserves ancestral history.
To Bear Witness
Wood;steel; resin; sugar; nutmeg; cinnamon; paint, and small bible; 2012.
Inspired in part by the fallacious notion that children should 'be seen and not heard', this mixed media work was created to amplify the muted voice of a child. The megaphone and witness stand are scaled to the average height of a seven year old. The disembodied feet are made of resin; cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar, echoing the popular nursery rhyme that children ' are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.' The bright red megaphone is a declarative statement--an apparatus that serves to validate a child's perspective. The work is augmented by a small bible placed on the arm rest of the witness stand.
To Gut; 2012.
wood; steel; serigraph on wood; paint; saw dust, and cross saw.
Inspired by the childhood experience of divorce, this work seeks to represent the fragility of an unstable home life and the role both parties play in its destruction. The exterior of the wood frame house bears the haunting images of several pairs of children's eyes--witnesses of an unfolding process they are powerless to prevent. The cross saw bisects the structure, its twin handles implying it takes two to complete the task. The line of saw dust on the ground traces the saws path.