Mining the Museum (1992)
In Mining the Museum, Wilson juxtaposes the museum’s artifacts, essentially reassembling the Maryland Historical Society’s existing collection, which had aimed to tell stories of colonization, slavery, and abolition, in a way which was new, surprising, satirical, and ironic. For example, he assembled ornate, colonial-era silverware, pitchers, and teacups along with a pair of iron slave-shackles, pushing the viewer to reconsider the biases which underlie historical exhibitions in museums, and how those impacted the meanings viewers attach to those objects. Another example is his placement of an old baby carriage with a Ku Klux Klan hood substituting the bedding, and a photograph of Black nannies and white babies next to it.
This automatically brought the viewer to understand the persistence of racial hierarchies, and bring attention to the way that prejudices are absorbed by children. This was a way of critiquing museum institutions from within in a provocative way that made people consider marginalized histories side-by-side with what is mainstream, making the racism within museum institutions apparent. Additionally, it was also a way of making apparent the biased way in which history is often recounted.
Speak of Me as I Am (2003)
This is a collection of Black glass chandeliers made with Murano glass. Wilson’s chandeliers have been vehicles of his meditations on Blackness, beauty, and death. Speak of Me as I Am was exhibited at the Venice Biennale, investigating the history of Venice’s African population, and probing into how Africans were depicted and portrayed in 17th and 18th century Venetian painting and decorative arts, and titled the different chandeliers using phrases from Shakespeare’s Othello. Chandelier Mori, one among the others in this exhibition, was the first black chandelier to be created in the entire history of Venetian glassmaking. His works utilize the seductive beauty of Venetian craftsmanship while simultaneously moving away from homogenous European culture.
The expansions of his work with chandeliers, The Way the Moon’s in Love with the Dark in his installation for Afro Kismet, exhibited at the Istanbul Biennial, combined black Murano glass with traditional metal and glass elements of ottoman chandeliers, drawing attention to the complicated relationship between Venice and Istanbul.
These are ways in which he has been able to meld cultural symbols to bring to light questions surrounding erasure and exclusion in society.
In Development (2013)
In this exhibition, Cozier uses cut geometric patterns from paper, patterns originally seen in suburban concrete ‘breeze bricks’. These patterns became more prevalent after Trinidad’s independence from the British, in the 1960’s and 70’s. In other tropical countries, these bricks were used as ventilation, in Cozier’s work they represent the possibility and longing of those in political and social transition across the world. It is intended to articulate a nation’s unresolved promise for a brighter future and the inevitable compromise and sense of displacement that accompanies “progress.” The images he depicts not only represent where he lives, but they also resonate as trans-cultural symbols.
In this video installation, Christopher Cozier presents to the viewer two single channel videos, Gas Men and Globe, which explore the presence and impact of multinational oil companies in various international locations. Through these works he aims to express the politics of the global oil economy. With the videos portraying suited men swinging fuel pump nozzles and hoses in the air like cowboy-style rope tricks and whip cracking, Cozier calls attention to the power dynamics present in this economic paradigm that has grave effects on seemingly anonymous places, lives, and histories.
Fábrica Inútil (2002)
In Fábrica Inútil, or ‘Useless Factory’, she restages a series of events surrounding layoffs at a factory in Puerto Rico. The video begins with a tragically banal scene of factory bosses emotionlessly announcing layoffs, but progresses to more fanciful and buoyant images of workers gathering to observe the sunrise and participate in wrestling matches etc. The artist turns her sharp critical eye on the social injustices of global capitalism and also intimates utopian alternatives through her imaginative play and connection to natural beauty.
La Cueva Negra (2013)
In La Cueva Negra, or ‘The Black Cave’, Muñoz explores the Paso del Indio, an indigenous burial ground in Puerto Rico that was discovered during the construction of a highway, and eventually paved over. Using interviews with local residents and archeologists involved in the excavation, the artist’s video offers a reflection on the origins and meanings of the site, which, in the process, becomes an allegory for the island;s convoluted history. The camera tracks two teenage boys wandering through the area, their freedom of movement and sense of curiosity symbolizing the romantic but ultimately misguided desire to find and preserve paradise.
Out of Focus Nuyoricans (1996)
This is a series of twenty out-of-focus black-and-white photographic portraits of Puerto Rican artists, community members, and activists, accompanied by Pedro Pietri’s poem ‘Nuyoricans Out of Focus’ (1966). This installation also depicts artifacts from the conceptual nation ‘El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico’, a politically charged nation in the vein of the Chicano nation Aztlán, the governing center of this nation being El Puerto Rican Embassy, developed by Pietri and Adál, rather than a White House. The Puerto Rican Embassy is meant to elevate the position of Puerto Rico from colony to equal nation, since only sovereign nations direct embassies. The out-of-focus Nuyoricans serve as ambassadors of the Embassy.
El Puerto Rican Embassy (1994)
Adál collaborated with poet Pedro Pietri on this artistic endeavor, founding a website, www.elpuertoricanembassy.org. This encompassed a ‘Puerto Rican passport’, naming ambassadors to the arts, and composing a national anthem written in what is known as ‘Spanglish’. El Puerto Rican Embassy, described as a ‘sovereign state of mind’, affirmed Puerto Rican Identity in the metropolis, proclaiming artistic liberation by challenging the confines of Puerto Rico’s colonial condition which deprives islanders of their own citizenship and diplomatic and political representation.
This title of this installation refers to the Margaret Mitchell novel, Gone with the Wind, set in the context of the Civil War. Walker’s narrative in this piece begins and ends with coupled figures, but the chain of tragicomic and turbulent imagery refutes the promise of romance and confounds conventional attributions of power and oppression.
This wall installation inaugurated Walker’s signature medium: black cut-out silhouettes of caricatures of antebellum figures arranged on a white wall in uncanny, sexual, and violent scenarios. She revives this 18th century cut-paper silhouette style as a way of critiquing historical narratives of slavery and the perpetuation of ethnic and racial stereotypes.
In this paper installation, Walker uses cut-paper silhouettes, known to have been a refined 28th century, high-society craft, to portray graphic narratives haunted by sexuality, violence, and subjugation, and confronting stereotypes to depict scenes in which masters and mistresses engaged with enslaved people and children, a surreal version of history. Through this installation, she aimed to examine the problematic nature of appropriating and exoticizing Black identity, culture, and vernacular across time and across the world. ‘Endless Conundrum’ is a direct reference to ‘Endless Column’ (1918), by a Romanian artist named Constantin Brancusi, who is often credited with inventing the terms of modern abstract sculpture and zigzag motifs of his work. This is a way of drawing attention to the unattributed adoption of African and Oceanic art in the creation of early 20th century European modernism, as with ‘Endless Column’.
‘A Subtlety’ refers to ‘Subtleties’ which were once a luxury. They were sugar sculptures made for the rich and elite, basically as edible table decorations. This was possible because sugar became a lot more widely available in large part due to slave labour. Walker looks at the history of slave trade in America, questions like who cut the sugar cane? Who bleached it? Who sacked it? This sculpture is a 35 foot tall ‘Sugar Baby’, a Black woman-sphinx made out of bleached sugar, which acts as both metaphor and reality since sugar is brown in its ‘raw’ state, lodged in the back of an enormous warehouse built in the late 19th century that Domino used at one point for storing raw sugar cane as it arrived from the Caribbean for refinement and packaging. The sculpture is enormous, yet still wears a kerchief around her head to remind the viewer where she comes from. Walker is intentional with this enormity not only for the viewer to see her, but so that the sphinx can so boldly display this position that is regal yet totemic of subjugation, beat down but standing.