David C. Driskell Center


Willie Cole: On Site

Thursday, September 22 - Friday, November 18, 2016



The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland is proud to announce its fall exhibition, Willie Cole: On Site, presenting highlights from the body of work by contemporary African American artist Willie Cole. The exhibition is organized by the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, and is co-curated by the David C. Driskell Center’s Deputy Director, Dorit Yaron, and Executive Director, Professor Curlee R. Holton. The exhibition will be on display at the Driskell Center from September 22nd through November 18th, 2016, with an opening reception on Thursday, September 22nd, from 5-7PM. The exhibition will be accompanied by a printed publication with an introduction and essays from the curators and scholar Sherri Irvin, Ph.D., the Presidential Research Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies, and Co-Director of the Center for Social Justice, at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.

In 2017, Willie Cole: On Site will begin its national tour; from April 7th through July 2nd, 2017, the exhibition will be featured at the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and beginning in October 2017, it will be on display at the University of New Hampshire’s Museum of Art, Durham. It will continue its tour to other locations soon after.

The exhibition features nineteen three-dimensional artworks, which Cole created from 2006 through 2016, and focuses on three main materials: found wood, used shoes, and recycled water bottles. Two of those materials, shoes and water bottles, represent objects that we use and discard. They contain residue from the individuals who have used those objects; the shoe keeps the shape, sweat, and smell of the person who wore it, while the bottles contain the individual’s DNA (breath, spit, and soul). A site-specific installation of a 20’ diameter ‘chandelier’ made of close to 5,000 recycled water bottles will be centered in the Driskell Center’s gallery, including a video documenting the creation of the ‘chandelier’. On his website, the artist states, “The idea of chandeliers made from recycled water bottles first came to me in a dream about 3 years ago. In that dream I saw one suspended in a void, with an image of Buddha inside each bottle. It was, I believed at that time, a message about purity, love, and unity. But upon waking I realized that it was also about the environment. Each day 20 billion bottles are added to landfills across the globe…”

Willie Cole is known for transforming ordinary objects, such as bicycle parts, irons, and shoes into works of art, alluding to the African American experience inspired by West African religion. Known for his strong use of imagery, one of Cole’s most prominent symbols, the steam iron, represents subjects ranging from the domestic role of women of color to the Yoruba god of iron and war, Ogun. Professor Curlee R. Holton describes Cole’s work as follows: “Willie Cole is one of the most creative and original artists working today. His iconic archetypal images penetrate our consciousness to connect to a primal source in each of us. He is masterful in how he can take a common object like well-worn shoes and resurrect from them a new spirit and meaning. He refashions impoverished objects from our world of the discarded and disowned with a self-assured agency of transformation to assert his own vision of art and beauty.”

The Driskell Center Gallery’s hours are Monday through Friday from 11AM to 4PM with extended hours on Wednesday until 6PM. The Driskell Center Gallery will additionally be open on Saturday, Sept. 24th, Oct. 8th, and Nov. 5th from 11AM to 4PM. The Driskell Center observes all University of Maryland closings due to inclement weather and holidays.

October - November, 2017
Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire 30 Academic Way, Durham, NH 03824-3538
April 7, 2017 - July 2, 2017
Arthur Ross Gallery 220 South 34th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104