Black Power Afro pick sculpture is as good as public art: a review by Doug McKesh | Arts

The giant steel sculpture of an afro hair pickaxe that appeared on St. Charles Avenue at CBD last weekend is all a public work of art should be. At 28 feet high, the sculpture – decorated with a peace sign and garnished with a clenched fist of the Black Force – requires attention and makes a clear statement that almost anyone can understand.

The towering track, entitled “All Power to All People,” recalls half a century of the Black Civil Rights Movement, from so-called radicals defiantly raising their fists in the 1960s to Black Lives Matter activists marching on the streets in recent years. And he does so with a whisper of wit, a nod of nostalgia, and a challenge to peace.

Hank Willis Thomas, a Brooklyn-based artist who designed All Power to All People, was born in 1976. In a recorded statement, he said his grandmother was a hairdresser who jammed a pickaxe in her hair. to inflate it to the correct proportions. The pickaxe had a Black Power fist on top.

“As a child,” Thomas said, “I just thought of it as combing your hair.” But when he came of age, he acknowledged that the pickaxe was “an icon of African American culture and history.”

The image of Grandma’s pickaxe stuck in his head.

As an ambitious young artist, Thomas said he came across a four-story clothespin in downtown Philadelphia. The absurd sculpture belongs to the world-famous pop artist of the 60s Klaes Oldenburg, who creates monuments dedicated to the most common things, such as typewriter tires, shuttles and … clothespins.

Oldenburg’s huge clothespin also rammed into Thomas’s head.

A few years ago, Thomas mixed pickaxe and clothespin concepts into a 9-foot preview of his Everything for All design. But it had to be bigger. “There is a different reverence when you have to rise into it or be in its shadow,” he said.

The towering works of art “All Power to All People” are part of a traveling exhibition of outdoor sculptures called the Monumental Tour, which has had previous stops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Auckland and even the Burning Man art festival in Black Rock, Nevada. The arrival of All Power to All People in New Orleans was intended to help celebrate June 16 and the upcoming Essence Fest.

Monumental Tour director Marsha Reed said she was the one who chose the location of the big Afro peak. She said Lafayette Square is perfect because there is no fence around it, so people had unlimited access, plus the park is visited by locals instead of tourists and is at the center of city politics, with a modern town hall and federal courts not far away.

A huge sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, unveiled on Saturday, June 19, 2022, in Lafayette Square in New Orleans, recalls the black government movement of the 1960s, when hair silhouettes and raised fists were symbols of racial identity. and political activism.

She didn’t think of old Gallier Hall when she positioned “All the Power of All People,” Reed said. But in a sense, Gallier Hall, across the street, is the perfect backdrop.

The old town hall was completed in the 1850s. Undoubtedly, it was built with slave labor and was a characteristic part of the architecture of the slavery society of that time. Its neoclassical design honors ancient Greece and Rome, also slave states.

Which makes it – intentionally or not – a symbolic foil for a sculpture that speaks to the African identity of much of the population.

There is no erasure of the past, of course. But you can certainly have a conversation with him, and that’s exactly what’s happening on St. Charles Avenue right now. The city’s picturesque trams thunder between two aspects of history, the indisputable rule of whites of the past and the continuing pursuit of black justice.

From an art point of view, this dialogue is a beautiful thing.

And that means that “All power for all people” is also a beautiful thing. On the one hand, it is a selfie operation that causes a smile, based on a ridiculously enlarged comb, which was popular among the last generation. It’s kind of reassuring. On the other hand, it is a spark plug of social problems that should not make us comfortable at all. As Picasso supposedly said, good art “should be bristled with razors.”

Neither City Hall nor Marsha Reed would reveal the cost of the Monumental Tour project.

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