Race Track Martyrs II
Sanford Biggers is a New York-based, interdisciplinary artist who works in film/video, installation, sculpture, music, and performance. Biggers intentionally complicates our understanding of hip hop, Buddhism, politics, identity, and art history to offer new perspectives and associations for established symbols. Through a multi-disciplinary formal process, and an equally syncretic creative approach, he makes works or “vignettes” that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are conceptual.
“Race Track Martyrs II” is a new work by Sanford Biggers that utilizes the vocabulary and familiarity of quiltmaking to navigate the complexities of America’s historic past, present, and future. Biggers constructs a sophisticated juxtaposition between symbols and images – such as the Lawn Jockey, the Minstrel Smile, and Seersucker and Kimono fabric – to unearth forgotten aspects of African-American history. It is through this interplay and investigation that Biggers builds a robust visual codex to inquire into the origin stories of these cultural signifiers. These questions serve as the connective tissue to remind us of how far America has come, but also how much further it needs to go before we have equality and justice.
The work’s title references the little known origins of Memorial Day, specifically the May, 1st, 1865 parade that took place after a mass reburial of African American Union soldiers in a Charleston race track after the civil war. Biggers forges his composition by fusing images and references from American history, like the minstrel smile, the ‘lawn jockey’ based on a commemorative statue of the American Revolutionary War legend Jocko Graves, the African American jockeys who started the Kentucky Derby, and the quilt patterns historically used to communicate information about safe houses along the Underground Railroad. Seersucker was a common fabric in America during the slavery era from the abundance of cotton in the South. It has since come to fashion due to the higher cost of current day production.