The Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL.
March 30 – October 14, 2012.
“Harriett Tubman was an astronaut, traversing the south to the north by navigating the stars”
Sanford Biggers has come to international prominence in the last decade with a body of work that investigates the themes of identity, race, African American history, and spirituality oftentimes through the blending installation and performance. His latest work continues the exploration of these themes through another stylistic departure, painting on historical quilts.
Though the extent of their use has been contested, quilts were used on the Underground Railroad as signposts signaling “stations” or safe houses. Slaves moved along the Railroad under the cover of night in some cases led by earlier escapees such as the renowned Abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, who is credited with leading dozens of slaves to freedom. Tubman is said to have been guided by the North Star during her perilous night journeys, thus Biggers’ use of star maps as the source material of his paintings references both Tubman and the Underground Railroad she traversed. Gregory Volk has remarked that the references to the constellations, “situate the whole work in relation to the cosmos, to immensities, and this is one of many times in Biggers’ work when fractious and gritty earthly matters are juxtaposed with overwhelming vastness.” That some of these late nineteenth-, early-twentieth century quilts were donated to Biggers by the descendant of slave owners adds a poignant historical echo to the work. The
quilts hung in the gallery space juxtaposed with the “cloud” forms composed of raw cotton, another dual reference to slavery and the beyond, act as maps simultaneously connecting us to our past and our present.
Matthew McLendon, PhD
Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art