Dada Diaspora

By Cutler, Jody B. | Afterimage, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Dada Diaspora


Cutler, Jody B., Afterimage


Deep Impressions: Willie Cole Works on Paper

The James Gallery of the Graduate Center, The City University of New York

New York City

September 21, 2010-January 8, 2011

Willie Cole is best known for assemblage sculptures and experimental prints that transform prosaic: objects into symbolic representations of African American identity. The most recognizable object and image in Cole's oeuvre over the past two decades is the household steam iron, in which Cole has discovered rich content related to the diaspora, from Yorubaland to black female labor in the Americas to his own chance encounter with a cache of abandoned irons and ironing boards near his first, studio in his native Newark, New Jersey. Cole has employed the irons not only as readymades, but as printing tools that have yielded some of his most, memorable works to date, as seen in his recent retrospective of works on paper organized by veteran curator Patterson Sims.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Cole began exploring the metaphoric and formal potential of iron scorching in the early 1990s. In Domestic ID II (1991), heated steam irons were pressed, tapered end pointed down, into thick paper to suggest sepia-toned masks ornamented with distinctive perforation patterns. Arranged in rows and framed by a mullioned window, each floating image is labeled with the brand name of its iron matrix, as in an ethnographic display. The singed contours of the rusty imprints enhance the faded-photograph illusion. This work broaches the social mutability of gender associations in its synthesis of "New World" women's work and mask-making, traditionally an exclusively male domain in most West African cultures (along with wood and metalwork).

Raid (1999) is a chaotic, large-scale composition of densely collaged, burnt iron cut-outs a play on abstract painting in the intuitive application of Cole's loaded, signature gesture. By the early '90s, the artist had begun replicating the iron transfers in screen prints and lithographs to introduce color, creating pointy, radiating sunflowers and mandalas, several of which were on view at the James Gallery. Among these more decorative works, Pot La Mesa de Mi Abuelita x 4 (2008) is a tour de force, an intricate stencil print cut into handmade paper with a "water stream" technique, simulating a floral lace tablecloth. Here, the legacies of European colonialism, gender stereotypes in art, and Cole's intense aesthetic interest in innovative techniques are intertwined.

Stowage (1997) is a nine-foot-long monochromatic woodblock print in which a grainy background becomes a rippling sea. The central image was formed from an ironing board--its embossed dots embedded in the. matrix--and reads as a bird's-eye, cutaway diagram of a slave ship. A border of medallions bearing differentiated iron emblems evokes the diverse groups brought together in the Middle Passage. Cole's theme and appropriation here is part of an iconographic legacy in postmodern African American art spanning many styles and generations. Throughout the past three decades, Betye Saar, Edouard Duval-Carrie, and Hank Willis Thomas, among others, have also collectively brought the Black Atlantic to the center of the art scene in the United States.

Cole's closest artistic predecessor is David Hammons in his punning, dadaist take on spades (shovels), basketball hoops, cheap wine bottles, and other used materials.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Dada Diaspora
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?