Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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152 REWRITING HISTORY With his powerful visual language, artist Sanford Biggers takes on racial injustice through his socially charged works. BY MIEKE TEN HAVE From the second level of Sanford Biggers' lofted Harlem studio, a bird's-eye view reveals a tiny slice of the interdisciplinary artist's both recent and ongoing projects. Folkloric, patchwork quilts hang from the walls, while in-process decoupage fabrics lay stacked on tables. A totem-like statue stoically presides from a corner of the room, its silhouette reminiscent of a standing pharaonic sculpture. The items themselves are comfortingly familiar, vaguely domestic and even beautiful, but like Biggers' larger canon of work, provocatively disturbing upon closer examination. "My work is a platform," the artist says. "I am not trying to be overly didactic and instead take a nuanced and layered approach. One of those layers has to do with social justice and re-righting history." By "re-righting" Biggers hopes to address the racial inequity that he contends America refuses to address. "The entirety of my career has been devoted to touching on aspects of African-American history and culture that aren't necessarily well known facts— instances that we don't talk about because America is in a state of racial denial," he says. Biggers tackles this fraught subject matter with a brilliant, deceptive quietness, manipulating found objects to reveal the dark corners and complexity of African-American and American history. In his quilt series, Codex, Biggers collects pre-1900 African- American-owned quilts that tell a "vernacular history." Many historians believe that quilts were used as signposts for slaves escaping to the north in the Underground Railroad, indicating safe houses, directions and danger. The finished piece currently hanging in his studio distinctly shows the outline of a slain body but with glitter, oil stick, acrylic paint and tar in lieu of white chalk, recalling endemic police violence against black men. "I like to think of myself as a late collaborator in the making of the quilts. I am coming into it 100 or more years later, with reverence, and adding a new story to it." His recently debuted BAM series, in which he repurposes African wood figurines, directly speaks to

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