Thursday, July 21, 2011

5 Questions for Contemporary Practice with Sanford Biggers

This month's 5 Questions features artist Sanford Biggers:

Time is my recent fascination. By that I mean the effect that time has on history, how past truths are debunked over time through research and new understandings. For example, the New York Times recently reported that Memorial Day actually began on May 1, 1865, when Black workmen re-buried over 250 Union Army casualties and later, with other freedpeople, White missionaries and teachers, staged a 10,000 person parade and celebration.

I’ll provide a few examples from my own work. A few years ago I made a series of chrome plated lawn jockeys based on the story of Jocko Graves. Jocko was a stable boy who sought to fight alongside George Washington. Deemed too young, Jocko was ordered to maintain the stables and keep a lantern lit to guide troops home after battle. One evening, Washington and his troops returned finding Jocko frozen to death, still clenching the lantern. Touched, Washington erected a statue at Mount Vernon honoring Jocko. Later replicas evolved/devolved into the lawn jockeys we are more familiar with before being denounced as derogatory symbols after slavery. Ironically, some lawn jockeys were reportedly used as markers along the Underground Railroad. The three sculptures in the series Jocko, are frozen in a state of emergence and dissolution, symbolizing the conflicted history of Jocko and the lawn jockeys he inspired. Similarly, my recent repurposed quilt drawings entertain the contested history of whether or not quilts were used as “signposts” along the Underground Railroad.

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