Stacey R. Queen
Chakaia, Thoughts of Zora and the American Flag
"I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong.
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."
~Zora Neal Hurston, 1928
Some of the best perks of traveling are the chance to experience different cultures, meet new people, try the most delicious foods, and above all, visit a local museum or two or three. On a recent trip to Florida, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami did not disappoint. https://icamiami.org/exhibition/chakaia-booker/ This beautifully designed museum is nestled in the heart of the Miami Design District with luxury brand neighbors like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Celine, and Hermes just to name a few. To my surprise, one of the museum's featured exhibitions was Chakaia Booker: The Observance. Booker's practice https://chakaiabooker.com/ involves creating monumental sculptures made of recycled tires. Strolling through the gallery, I approached Booker's creation of an American flag, Make a Wish, 2012. With an understanding that each viewer has his/her/their own interpretation of our symbolic star-spangled banner, Booker depicts the flag monochromatically perhaps reflecting not on our country's dark history concerning our social constructions of race but on the singularity, beauty, and wonder of the human race.
As I stood in front of her flag, I also thought about the physical toil of her creative process. Historically, being a female artist of color often brings about a myriad
of challenges. The Guerilla Girls have been tracking representation of women artists featured in museum collections, gallery shows, and exhibitions with reports dating back to the 80s' that showed women artists earned 1/3 of what men artists did, calling out galleries that showed 10% of women artists or none at all and putting New York City museums on blast who never had a one-person exhibition by a woman artists. Certainly, thirty-five years after publishing such disheartening statistics some things have changed with museums and gallery showings. You will come across a one-women exhibition or gallery showing a bit more than before however, the struggle continues for many. Booker's sculptures take the emotional, physical, and social components of being a female artist and envelop you into a gripping authenticity of self-awareness, being, and human connection.
As I delightfully departed Booker's exhibition, I reflected on the words of Hurston. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of experiencing Chakaia Booker's amazing, well-crafted, colossal, cast-off tires turned sculptures that embody her testament to industrialization, environmental concerns, and consumer consumption? It's beyond me!