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Man Spirit Mask

Willie Cole

Contemporary Art

In this image, Willie Cole uses an iron to connect with painful and lingering histories of racial oppression, commenting on the extent to which the marks of the past live on in the present. The iron, which left a singed impression in the middle panel, suggests domestic service (Cole’s mother and grandmother both worked as housekeepers), but its form also recalls both the European ships that carried captive African laborers to the Americas and historical African masks.

In the first and third panels, Cole superimposes the iron-as-mask image over his own face. By connecting a suggestion of iron marks to his face in the first panel, Cole further evokes the manner in which history has marked his body. He suggests both ritual scarification patterns and the branding irons that turned the bodies of African laborers into Western commodities.
MEDIUM 3 panels of photoetching, silkscreen, and woodcut on paper (unframed)
DATES 1999
DIMENSIONS Each panel: 39 1/8 x 26 1/2 in. (99.4 x 67.3 cm)  (show scale)
INSCRIPTIONS Inscribed in lower left of (a): "14/40"
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
CREDIT LINE Emily Winthrop Miles Fund
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Willie Cole (American, born 1955). Man Spirit Mask, 1999. 3 panels of photoetching, silkscreen, and woodcut on paper (unframed), Each panel: 39 1/8 x 26 1/2 in. (99.4 x 67.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2000.109a-c. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2000.109a-c_SL3.jpg)
EDITION Edition: 14/40
IMAGE overall, 2000.109a-c_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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