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Willie Cole

Center For Research In Contemporary Art

The modest survey of works from 1990 to 1993 in “Willie Cole: Iconic Structures,” evoked the considerable friction between subjective experience and socially imposed identity. Retaining vestigial associations of race, class, and gender, the worn-out found objects Cole uses for raw material in his sculptures generate layers of politically charged narrative complexities, yet the quirky humor of the pieces never allows Cole’s authorial voice to be easily reduced to unimaginative sociological explanations.

Cole’s African-American identity informs the reconstructed ironing boards of Domestic Shields, 1992, which he scorched with steam irons in patterns that resemble West African motifs. As shields, the objects recall masculine associations of warrior and tribal culture, but as ironing boards, they become icons of devalued domestic labor, branded with the repetitive drudgery of traditional women’s

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