In his new multimedia exhibition at the California African American Museum, artist Willie Cole (b. 1955) transforms domestic objects, ranging from hair dryers to bicycle parts to lawn jockeys, into sculptures that are inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture and embedded with references to the African-American experience. Discarded mass-produced American products, objects that have their own history are the raw material of Cole’s creations. Deriving from his own personal experience as well as collective cultural histories, the works synthesize the physical and spiritual worlds and are by turns, playful, inquisitive and intelligent. The exhibition, “Afterburn—Willie Cole: Selected Works 1997-2004” opened on May 12 and will be on view through August 6. Perma-Press (hybrid), 1999 The imprint of a clothes iron is arguably the single most important icon in Cole’s visual vocabulary. For him, the iron is indicative of the house servant role of women of color in American culture and emblematic of domesticity in general. In West Africa, however, the iron has male rather then female associations. In the Yoruba culture for example, Ogun, the god of iron and war, is the patron deity representing male power, weapons and fertility. “In tribal art, mystery and secrecy become visual signifiers and unleash magical and spiritual speculation in the minds of its viewers,” Cole said. “That’s ashe… and that’s getting to the other side”. Born in New Jersey, Willie Cole attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work is in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.The museum is located at 600 State Drive in Exposition Park. Admission is free. Parking is $6. For more information, please call (213) 744-7432.
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