New Jersey artist Willie Cole juxtaposes finished footwear and African tradition in his Series of sculptural masks. The figurative assemblages stack women’s heels into groups that are expressive and unique. An effect that Cole derives from the material, color and pattern of the shoes rather than from a preconceived plan or sketch. The sculptures show exaggerated, toothy grins, pointed brows and outstretched tongues. They span more than a decade of the artist’s career and influence a new collaboration with Comme des Garçons consisting of Headgear with black pumps.
Each piece is overlaid with cultural and social markers, including those that speak out on mass consumption, fashion trends, and ideas about femininity. This context is in time and place, which Cole describes as a “subtle catalyst for perception”. I’ve found that high heels bought in New York are very different from high heels bought in Georgia, ”he says. Cole explains:
I think you could call the high heel both a fearful object and a ready-made help. “Afraid” because as a symbol it is full of history and a story of its own, even as a shoe. “Readymade Aid” because this story adds so much to your interpretation and / or reaction to these pieces. As for fashion, these pieces talk about the abundance of discarded high heels in the world as well as the different styles and trends.
The artist is currently involved in a number of projects including a commission for the Kansas City International Airport in tribute to Charlie Parker and a series of sculptures made from 75 Yamaha acoustic guitars to raise money for music education. His work can currently be seen at Alexander and Bonin in New York City and Beta Pictoris Gallery in Birmingham. This summer he will take part in a show at Hauser and Wirth and is involved in an installation celebrating a former Black Quarter that was built in the Metropolitan Museum of Art this autumn. See more of his extensive body of work, which is primarily concerned with black identities his side and Instagram.
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