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Metaphor: Iron


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 [the 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

In parts of West Africa, the god Shango is noted for his magical powers and was feared because when he spoke, fire came out of his mouth. It is said that Shango worshippers could become possessed and eat fire, carry a pot of hot coals on their heads, or put their hands into live coals without apparent harm.

In Stowage the central image of an ironing board, recalling the shape of a slave ship, is surrounded by impressions of numerous irons. These marks, each a separate pattern, evoke different tribes in Africa. In all of his works, Cole transforms objects of contemporary consumer society by giving them a second life after they are discarded. He blends aspects of African culture with these mass-produced objects, searching for their latent spiritual and symbolic power.

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Type: Commentary, online content
Source: Metaphor: Iron, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.
Rights: Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009