Standing in a posture of servitude, the caricatured black lawn jockey reflects Jim Crow–era white racism. However, Willie Cole has reimagined it in a posture of strength and combat. “Chess is a game of war,” the artist says, and “To get to the other side is a battlefield.” The figures are embellished with knives, bags, neckties, beads, and other adornment to reflect both their roles on the chessboard and African symbolism. In the artist’s rendering, each lawn jockey is a stand-in for the Yoruba god Elegba, a gatekeeper who represents games and chance. To reach higher gods, or orishas, one must first seek approval from Elegba.
If getting to the other side means attaining a higher spiritual realm, what stakes are at play in the jockeys’ battle? What happens to the jockey, or any object, when reconstituted with new meaning? What happens to its old meanings and the sides on which it used to play?
From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)