Fred Wilson uses objects to encourage the reconsideration of social and historical symbols and narratives by reframing their conventional interpretations. Here the artist emphasizes the Western “fetish” for Egyptian artifacts by placing a plaster pharaoh, a common souvenir for tourists traveling Egypt, on a pedestal. The repeated use of ankhs—an ancient Egyptian symbol of life—and images of Egyptian queen Nefertiti, allude to the power of Egypt. Meanwhile, leather cords reference enslaved peoples and beaded necklaces and Pan-African colors symbolize the American Black Power movement of the 1970s. What makes an object a tourist commodity and what defines it as “authentic”? Which, if any of these objects, represent African identity, and who is to decide?
In Wilson’s sculpture, African and black diasporic identities merge. But what of the many other African countries besides Egypt? What does Egypt offer or symbolize that has created such a fetish for it, both in Western conceptions of Africa and in African identities?
From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)