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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Multimedia Conversations and Culture in Faulconer

A sampling of Willie Cole’s works now on display in Faulconer Gallery. Photo by Mary Zheng.
A sampling of Willie Cole’s works now on display in Faulconer Gallery. Photo by Mary Zheng.
A sampling of Willie Cole’s works now on display in Faulconer Gallery. Photo by Mary Zheng.

With an opening reception today, the Faulconer Gallery is premiering a series of multi-media works by artist Willie Cole. Cole’s pieces, which include sculptures, drawings, paintings and prints, draw upon his personal and familial experiences to speak about themes of the African-American experience, inner-city life and spirituality.

In his show, “Complex Conversations: Willie Cole Sculptures and Wall Works,” Cole remixes elements of mass-produced culture in pieces that couple ironing boards, bicycle wheels and women’s shoes with traditional African art to engage in discourses about national and personal identity. Cole describes himself as an “urban archaeologist,” appropriating different elements of modern culture and endowing them with cultural and historical significance to make sense of larger historical dialogues.

This tendency is exemplified by “Stowage,” one of Faulconer Gallery Curator of Academic and Community Outreach Tilly Woodward’s favorite pieces in the show.

“At first glance you might understand the image as a series of shields, then you might realize that you are looking at the patterns of 12 irons and an ironing board, and then you might see the ironing board as a diagram of the hold of a slave ship,” Woodward said. “The relationship between irons as domestic tools, irons for branding, brand of irons, irons as restraints really speaks to me about the complex, layered quality of our personal and cultural identities. I hope … the impact of the show will be to engage people in thinking through their assumptions about themselves and others. When we look deeper—and with multiple lenses—we understand so much more.”

This woodblock print explores the intersections of artistry and manufactured goods, and prompts viewers to look closer—to engage with the work on multiple levels and decode its secondary meanings and see beyond the obvious.

In 2000, the College purchased three of Cole’s works, which have been on display in the print and study room in the basement of Burling. Planning the exhibition opening tonight began in 2012. The previous purchase of Cole’s work provided added motivation to bring the current exhibition to campus as part of an effort to display elements of the College art collection within the context of the artist’s wider efforts.

Faulconer Gallery Associate Director and Curator of Exhibitions Dan Strong lauds Cole’s ability to explore the individual, as well as the abstract, a balancing act that cements the appropriateness of bringing his work to Grinnell.

“The heart of the College’s art collection is social and political commentary—the impact, in as many facets as we can discover, of humankind’s feats and follies on the soul of the individual. Willie Cole is a perfect example of that: an African-American artist exploring not merely ‘identity,’ but his own individuality through manipulation of the raw materials of world culture and his own urban American upbringing,” Strong said. “My simple goal is that, in Willie Cole’s art, viewers will gain a greater understanding of a great American artist and also see a little bit of themselves.”

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