Cultural Hijack: The Pedestal of Oppression

by Isiah Powell Taylor

This project was most likely the hardest to complete for me personally. At first I think I was afraid of the stronger ideas I had concerning the project. However, as time went on I think I only grew more frustrated with the boundaries I had put up for myself. It took continuous encouragement by fellow classmates and Angela that I was able to end up with this finished product. At first a lot of my ideas centered around tomfoolery: in that I would get my audience to conceptualize the work rather than myself. Now that I look back on it, the idea of having folks violate something that resembles a black body was not a wise decision: so I did it myself. I researched common slavery torture methods and performed each one upon this manikin. The process itself was quite emotional, as I began to notice what I was doing, even if it was on an inanimate object. The idea of me performing these violent acts at all hit me a bit. Knowing that my ancestors had to endure similar atrocities, I was quite upset as I began slicing away, but at the same time felt a sort of solidarity at the same time. As I was not performing these acts to further violence, rather to quell it. Its confusing to think that this work. I performed these actions outback of Hiembold and I think this was where the hijack truly arose. As I attacked this manikin, I drew quite a crowd, over 15 people came to the window with mixed emotions: some of pure joy and others of complete and utter fear. Honestly the fire grew out of control very quickly, and for this reason my manikin looks unrecognizable now. However, I prefer this look , as it directly represents each action I performed upon it, but at the same time has this sort of endurance about it. Similar to the endurance of my ancestors for over 300 years. (Depicted below is a lifecycle of my manikin)

At first I was upset with the result of my torture, it did not mimic the body in my eyes at first, it resembled more of a tree stump in my eyes, but a tree stump again has a sort of resistance about it. The tree has been cut but the truck remains, to someday hopefully grow into a new tree, or provide nutrients for the environment around it. Either way in the end my creation would do both. In my final fall presentation I chose to group the work from both of my art classes (Hijack and Intermediate Studio), and I think it could not have gone better.

I was so happy to see my work be realized as what it was meant to be. viewers could empathize with what was inside of my artist statement even before they had read it for themselves. I sensed in each critique I had on this work as well as in those who passed by curious about the work, that they were threatened by it. As a Hijack I consider it successful, due to the fact that I wanted people to feel cautious around my work and in fact that is just what happened. In fact as I was installing I asked quite a few people who interacted with the work how they felt about it and nearly all of them said they felt watched or frightened. My work sought to most of all flip this sort of surveillance I feel constantly in Hiembold back onto the very folk who cause such feelings. In fact, during my advanced studio critique many of the comments focused around how the pedestal seems to quiclkly move into the viewers space, to such a point that some could not look at any further after i explained what I had done to it. Many also mentioned how the eyes and mouths seem to almost erupt from the pedestal and serve as a defense mechanism for the piece as a whole, which I adore.

Overall, I would say that I struggled most in the first stages of this project as I was anxious to go all in on this project, I first thought way too much about the the implications and I think that was a direct reflection of this sort of surveillance effecting my confidence. However, I soon noticed with the help of my fellow classmates and teachers that I needed to do this to this manikin. It was not only pivotal for the work but also pivotal to the way I think of my own work and more importantly think about myself. I have learned a lot from this class as a whole, but this final project most definitely provided me with the confidence to make charged art, and will assist me in my future art career. Due to this project, for my senior show I will be making an abundance of these manikins to add a sculptural element to my wall work!

ps: Thank you Angela! I had an amazing time in your class, it really helped me realize myself as an artist and see my potential as a hijacker! I will never forget this class!