NARRATOR: Kellie Jones, assistant professor of the History of Art and African-American Studies at Yale University, describes this work by David Hammons.
JONES: Some people describe it as like a tarantula; some kind of animal; some kind of bug; but huge. But if you go close to it, of course, what the main thing about it is that it’s this huge construction that’s made with African-American hair, I mean not solid tendrils of hair, but hair that’s been affixed to wires, that’s been strung on wires.
Of course probably the most direct comparison in that case is dreadlocks.
I think it’s just like I said, a kind of monumental homage to the body. But again, as David usually does, at this point, after the seventies, the body is only made reference to, and it’s not a figurative work necessarily.
David starts out in LA, in the mid-1960s working with a group of African-American artists who are kind of right in the middle of the kind of California interest in assemblage that came out of the Beat movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.
So there’s an African-American movement at that time, in the 1960s, which is using castoff materials in the same way, but actually with a different slant, in that they’re using materials that have a significance for African-American life.
And you know, as he always says, you know, these items are free. That’s why I use whatever there’s a lot of that’s free. So he’s used bottle caps. He used hair in the same way, because he goes to barbershops, and this is garbage. This is the refuse that’s thrown away. And he also talks about, particularly in the case of hair, you can think of all the magical properties that it also has as well in so many cultures.