Barbara Chase-Riboud, American
Polished bronze, rayon, and cotton
9 feet 10 inches × 3 feet 11 1/4 inches × 9 7/8 inches (299.7 × 120 × 25.1 cm) Base: 27 3/4 × 15 3/4 inches (70.5 × 40 cm)
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by Regina and Ragan A. Henry, and with funds raised in honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Museum and in celebration of African American art, 2001
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About This Sculpture
Why did African American artist Barbara Chase-Riboud (ree-BOO) depict the famous civil rights activist and Muslim minister Malcolm X with shapes made of bronze and strands of knotted and braided silk? How can soft, hanging pieces of silk support such big, heavy pieces of metal? Abstract art typically makes us ask questions like these and encourages us to discover our own answers.
Chase-Riboud formed the upper section of this sculpture from large sheets of wax, which were then cast in bronze and carefully polished. The lower section, made of silk, covers a pedestal that holds up the bronze, making it appear to hover in midair. What does each section remind you of? How are they similar and different? Although both sections are roughly the same size and color, look for opposite qualities: hard and soft, for example. Which section could swing and sway? Which one looks like melting ice?
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in 1925. After a difficult childhood and troubles with the law, Malcolm went to prison, where he joined the Nation of Islam, a Black Nationalist group that follows the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Later, he became a popular but controversial minister who delivered angry speeches about racial injustice. In 1964, he made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which changed his outlook completely. He preached universal peace and brotherhood until he was tragically assassinated the following year. In this sculpture, Chase-Riboud pays homage to Malcolm X by emphasizing qualities of his charismatic personality and achievements rather than creating a likeness of his physical appearance.
This object is included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across Time and Cultures, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by the Comcast Foundation, The Delphi Project Foundation, and Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company.
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