“What is pure? Who is pure?
Is it European state of being, I ain't sure
If the whole world was to come through peace and love
Then what would we be made of?”
- Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet, 1990
Half-Choctaw and half-Cherokee, Jeffrey Gibson creates sculptures and paintings that coalesce traditional Native American arts and craft with contemporary art and culture. Drawing from popular music, fashion, literature, his own political opinions and his rich heritage, Gibson's work, with an echo of Pop Art, recontextualizes familiar objects by imbuing them with new meaning through the adornment of decorative embellishments, text or painterly geometric abstractions.
His best known works are Everlast Punching Bags adorned with beads, tassels, sequins and more recently with an element of text often drawn from songs titles. Nina Simone, James Baldwin and hip-hop group Public Enemy are sources for language that touch on charged political issues and cultures such as his, which have been debased and denied. In his work decisive political calls, or saccharine pop phrases transform into more personal philosophical musings.
White Power is a personal and poignant example of the artist's Punching Bags. Two words, “WHITE POWER,” are meticulously stitched in transparent plastic beads, which in an adroit formal decision are contrasted against a field of white beads. Gibson physically and metaphorically confronts a history where a “color” should epitomize such provocative “power”.
Despite a near monochromatic surface, exquisite formal details are still vaunted; zig-zag patterns stitched in alternating white and transparent beads engender a subtle but elegant rhythm. White nylon fringes hang weightlessly as a reference to the flamboyant satin robes of boxers entering the ring, but also as a homage to the regalia of Native American powwow dancers. Like Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin before him, Gibson exploits the full possibilities of quiet variations in pattern and form to draw out emotional connotations.