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Willie Cole, Stowage (1997)


Walker Art Center



Institution Walker Art Center
"I think that when one culture is dominated by another culture, the energy or powers or gods of the previous culture hide in the vehicles of the new cultures. . . . I think the spirit of Shango (Yoruba god of thunder and lightning) is a force hidden in the iron because of the fire, and the power of Ogun--his element is iron--is also hidden in these metal objects." --Willie Cole

While Willie Cole was growing up in New Jersey, his grandmother and great-grandmother worked as housekeepers and they often asked him to fix their irons. When he moved into his first artist studio, he brought 15 broken irons with him. For Cole, this common household appliance has a number of connotations: domestic servitude, African rituals of scarification, and an African heritage of "branding"--identifying particular tribes by way of shields or masks. To make the print Stowage, he grouped several different makes of irons (Silex, General Electric, Sunbeam) around an ironing board that is meant to represent a slave ship. The marks of the various irons evoke members of different African tribes who may have been brought to America aboard such a vessel.

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Type: Commentary, curriculum resource
Source: Text for Willie Cole, Stowage (1997), from the curriculum guide So, Why Is This Art?, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2002.
Rights: Copyright 2002 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009