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.