In Sanford Biggers’s Blossom, a piano fused with a tree plays “Strange Fruit” (in an arrangement by the artist). The song, popularized in the 1930s by Billie Holiday, protests the atrocity of lynching:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
The haunting lyrics suggest that the piano attached to such a tree might be interpreted as a surrogate for a violated human body.
In making this work, the artist was influenced by a 2006 incident in Jena, Louisiana, in which nooses were dangled from a tree at a local high school. The Equal Justice Initiative has found that Louisiana was one of the states in which a disproportionately high number of racial terror lynchings took place between 1877 and 1950.
More broadly, however, the piece also evokes the rich cross-cultural symbolism of trees. For instance, Biggers has cited the story of Buddha finding enlightenment under a bodhi tree. The work’s unlikely combination of the heinous and the compassionate demonstrates the artist’s paradoxical interest in multiplicities of both inspiration and interpretation.
Steel, plastic and synthetic fibers, wood, MIDI player piano system, Zoopoxy, paint, dirt, modelling clay, polyurethane foam
12 x 18 x 15 feet (365.9 x 548.8 x 457.3 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Purchase gift of Toby Devan Lewis, Charles and Amber Patton, and an anonymous donor, gift of the Contemporary Art Council, and the Mary Smith Dorward Fund
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Sanford Biggers (American, born 1970). Blossom, 2007. Steel, plastic and synthetic fibers, wood, MIDI player piano system, Zoopoxy, paint, dirt, modelling clay, polyurethane foam, 12 x 18 x 15 feet (365.9 x 548.8 x 457.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchase gift of Toby Devan Lewis, Charles and Amber Patton, and an anonymous donor, gift of the Contemporary Art Council, and the Mary Smith Dorward Fund, 2011.10. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, DIG_E_2014_Unfolding_Tales_rotation_07_PS4_2011.10.jpg)
installation, DIG_E_2014_Unfolding_Tales_rotation_07_PS4_2011.10.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2014
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