Review: Sanford Biggers’ Latest Show Is A Call To Pause and Reflect
BAM (for Michael) 2015, Wood & Wax Sculpted with Bullets, 19 x 6 x 4 inches
Sanford Biggers’ Latest Show Is A Call To Pause and Reflect
Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
September 7 - October 21, 2017
Acclaimed multidisciplinary conceptual artist Sanford Biggers continues to address the United States’ willful racial legacies by transforming African and African American cultural objects and symbols into engrossing artworks and installations. His current exhibit at the Marianne Boesky Gallery is titled Selah, a Biblical exclamation that’s been used to exhort faithful listeners to undertake a range of actions. Since selah’s meaning can only be discerned by the context in which it is used, what can this concept offer us during these troubled times?
Are we being called to contemplate the importance of what has been previously stated? In the installation Overstood the large glittery shadows cast by a group of African statues are portraits of men who led the fight to establish ethnic studies at San Francisco State University: Black Students Union leader Ben Stewart, faculty member George Murray, Black Panther Bobby Seale, and an unidentified man. Their success 50 years ago inspired students and educators of color across the nation to organize and demand their own college ethnic studies programs. This fight continues on through efforts to prevent budget cuts to college-level programs, establish and expand ethnic studies in K-12 schools, and a recent legal decision that students in the Tucson Unified School District had their constitutional rights violated by an Arizona law that banned a Mexican-American studies program.
Are we being urged to raise our voices? Reminded to acknowledge ongoing struggles? Sculptures and video from the BAM Series are also presented. Biggers found a use for the African sculptures he’d been collecting over the years once video recordings of deadly police violence against African Americans became undeniable proof to the general public that this is an ongoing problem rooted in systemic racism. Given this awareness, a video, BAM (for Michael), of how these figures are sculpted by “ballistics” (shot at in a firing range) before being cast in bronze, is understandably jarring. Biggers, who has been held at gunpoint by police, didn’t want to shoot the figures himself. He explained last year to Interview Magazine, that “I think somehow that implies me in the work in a way that I don't want to be implied. Not only that, it feels like I'm shooting myself, like some type of effigy of myself or one of my friends. So my cameraman pulled the trigger.” Another association that comes up with this series are the nkisi nkondi power figures created by Kongo peoples as a container for spiritual powers that can be called upon in moments of crisis. They are often recognized by the nails, blades, or shards of glass inserted in their surfaces. Is this what Biggers is referencing in his attempts to “expand the series beyond the recognition and remembrance of these tragedies into an exploration of the human condition and the desire for transcendence?”