An Oversized Statue of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Activist, Pensively Stares Toward Alcatraz
Peering out over the San Francisco Bay toward Alcatraz is a monumental statue that pays homage to an American Indian Movement activist who’s been incarcerated for decades. Created by Portuguese-American artist Rigo 23 in 2016, the 12-foot-tall figure resembles a small self-portrait that the activist, Leonard Peltier, painted while imprisoned.
Wearing a simple white shirt, yellow pants, and no shoes, Peltier sits on a cement base, which is the actual size of his cell, in a pensive position. “There was something Buddha-like about the pose, and it reminded me of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker,’ which is so muscular and epic,” Rigo 23 told Hyperallergic about the original portrait. “Usually, images of heroism and humanity are epic, and this is just a man sitting on the ground wearing prison-issued clothes. It has this different kind of spirituality.”
A member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and also of Lakota and Dakota descent, Peltier was a well-known leader in the American Indian Movement throughout the 1960s and ’70s, having spearheaded multiple protests and marches to end injustices. Despite denying the charges, he has been imprisoned since 1977 after being convicted of killing two FBI agents in a 1975 shooting on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment for the incident, which has resulted in campaigns for his clemency.
Rigo 23 designed the work with detachable feet, which have traveled to Standing Rock Reservation, Alcatraz, and Crow Dog’s Paradise. The decision has allowed activists, including Angela Davis, to stand on top of the wooden pair in solidarity, an act that an Instagram account has been documenting.
The oversized statue was moved to the roof of the San Francisco Art Institute in October—watch the full dedication ceremony with speeches from Peltier’s children on YouTube—where it received one of its more celebratory welcomes. Met with both support and animosity throughout its history, the work was removed early from a 2016 visit to the Katzen Art Center at the American University in Washington, D.C. Spurred by a complaint from the president of the FBI Agents Association, the action resulted in the statue’s displacement for about a year, the artist says.
Its current position facing Alcatraz has similar significance, considering an activist group’s occupation of the former federal prison during the Nixon administration. In 1969, Indians of All Tribes seized the site in hopes of turning it into a school, cultural center, and museum. As the U.S. government attempted to regain control, the group established a clinic, kitchen, and education centers for the 19 months it claimed the island.
The statue will remain at SFAI until March 28, 2021. Although the institution is closed to visitors, it’s offering a virtual tour of the work on its site.
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From fallen trees, planks, and old furniture, Efraïm Rodríguez carves vivid sculptures that evoke the imaginative and playful daydreams of childhood. The Barcelona-based artist highlights the texture of the organic material, creating life-sized figures donning garments of veneered wood or whose bodies mimic the toys they stack. Many depict toddlers or younger children in the midst of play, and even the older characters are infused with elements of sport and recreation, like “Anna” (shown below) who wears a dress studded with tees and holds a golf ball.
Although the precisely sculpted figures often are based on his nieces, nephews, and other family members, Rodríguez tells Colossal that themes of childhood only recently emerged. He explains:
The children appeared in my work almost from the beginning, but they were only a reference, a motive. The theme was not childhood. In the early works, they were self-aware children, representing adults in the form of children. The children were a good support to work emotions and question the viewer. In 2007, my sister had two children. I began to use them as a model in my sculptures. From here the theme of childhood was appearing. I began to represent beyond their forms their actions and attitudes.
Rodríguez was raised in an artistic family in which his father and grandfather were both painters. Despite being exposed to that medium, he shares that he’s always been drawn to representing the world in three-dimensions. “For me, sculpture is a reconstruction of the world. I always build my sculptures in real size the referent, the sculpture, and the spectator live in the same place, breath(ing) the same air,” he says.
Wood, in particular, has been conducive to the artist’s process, which begins with an image in his head rather than a two-dimensional sketch. The malleable material also brings its own history to the works, and Rodríguez chooses the specific type based on its technical and narrative qualities. “Wood has always a past, a biography. A piece of wood has been always something else before, furniture or whatever, at least a tree,” the artist says.
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Textural Sculptures by Artist Jessica Drenk Use Junk Mail, Book Pages, and Q-Tips to Explore Materiality
Montana-born artist Jessica Drenk (previously) employs simple materials, like shopping flyers and standard No. 2 pencils, to create organic sculptures that are chaotic and arresting explorations of the substances themselves. Bundled Q-tips spread across a site-specific installation like the roots of a tree, a carved section of plywood reveals concentric patterns, and strips of junk mail are plastered together in long waves.
While Drenk’s latest series, titled Transmutations, is diverse and ranges from wall pieces to cavernous sculptures, each artwork explores materiality and how disparate shapes and textures combine to create forms that are new both physically and conceptually. The artist explains in a statement:
In treating everyday objects as raw material to sculpt, I practice a form of conceptual alchemy: through physically manipulating these objects their meanings become transmuted. Each piece is a direct response to material—a subversion of the meanings associated with it, and a reference to the life cycle of objects through time.
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Based in Montpellier, France, Thibaut Malet (previously) spent much of his childhood in his father’s workshop, which housed the family’s cabinetry business. At 10-years-old, the third-generation woodworker began sculpting the organic material, although his creations were infinitesimal compared to his dad’s counterparts. Malet carved miniature scenes spotted in everyday life, imagining new, small-scale worlds. “It was a way to work with wood without using the too dangerous machines of my father. My parents organized a tiny workshop in a small room, and it was perfect,” he shares with Colossal.
Although Malet never studied the trade in an official capacity, he now works as a designer and wood artist after a few years as an architect and furniture maker, a background that’s evident in his tiny scenes. Malet carves quaint cabins and outdoor equipment, including canoes, ladders, and seating areas, nestled among the trees or at the base of a ravine. Each structure is unique, whether built as a simple A-frame or a more complex, vaulted chalet. Intentionally minimal, the scenes reflect the artist’s commitment to “working with the least amount of material. It’s a reflection on saving material and space,” he says. “I’ve always liked the challenge of making things as small as I can.”
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Gil Bruvel (previously) has spent 40 years practicing vipassanā meditation, an introspective practice that invites judgment-free observation of the mind. The Australia-born artist infuses the philosophies of this decades-long ritual into his variegated sculptures as he forms a series of faces in deep thought. With eyes and mouths closed, the figures project serenity and calmness, serving as “a reminder of what it looks like to be centered and at peace,” Bruvel says of The Mask Series.
Different in shape and size, the sticks are burned, painted with subtle gradients, and then held in place with wood glue, causing the figures to appear pixelated and as a disparate grouping of squares and rectangles when viewed up close. From a distance, however, “that fragmentation reveals a coherent whole: a face arises from apparent chaos,” Bruvel shares with Colossal. Through their collated forms, the assemblages offer a visual metaphor for the complexity and contradiction that’s inherent to human beings.
Bruvel also draws attention to the backs of the sculptures, which stray from the figurative depictions of the front to focus on the abstract workings of the mind. “The assemblage of pixel-like stick-ends conveys the hidden realm of emotion, sensation, and thought—our internal universe. The gradients of color represent the flows of feeling and consciousness that pass through our minds like ripples on a lake, leaving the lake unchanged,” he says.
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A new DIY kit transforms any ordinary houseplant into a miniature haven complete with mood lighting. Created by Australia-based British designer Lars Wijers, Tiny Treehouses feature multiple configurations, from an ornate gazebo to a multi-roofed structure resembling tropical architecture. Each is equipped with LED lights (batteries included!) and manufactured to hang from a branch or rest on a flat surface.
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