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The 2017 Newark Arts Honors Award Ceremo-ny and Gala: Honoree Willie Cole

by | Mar 8, 2017

On March 29, 2017, sculptor and conceptual artist Willie Cole will be one of four creatives honored at the 2017 Newark Arts Honors Award Ceremony and Gala. The Gala honors artists who have made significant contributions in their field and represent diverse artistic communities and cultures.

            Willie Cole is a Newark, New Jersey born-and-bred artist whose work has been featured in solo exhibits, group exhibits, site-specific installations, and college campuses across the country. Cole’s work touches on themes of consumerism and includes traditional African-American iconography weaved in with pop culture motifs. His work embodies contemporary sculpture, addressing the intersections of biography and history- not just of himself, but of the viewer as well. Some of his most notable pieces include a chandelier constructed of plastic water bottles, mask sculptures made of different shoes, and lithographs comparing th
e imprint of a clothing iron with an African-American slave ship.

            Transcending biography and carving out a niche in the contemporary art field, Cole’s work is often boiled down to themes of femininity, consumerism, or the African-American experience. In an interview with a Michigan newspaper, however, Cole himself stated, “Because I’m African-American, people often say it’s about the African-American experience, but it’s really about the human experience. People of all races wear shoes, use irons, that kind of stuff.” A chandelier made of water bottles, for example, tells the story of both plastic manufacturing and the communities that helped Cole collect the thousands of water bottles. Viewers’ reactions to the art says a lot about how they feel about those narratives. 

             Cole has been honored with numerous awards and residencies at institutions across the country and has been noted for his contributions to contemporary African-American art and art history. His engagements with art continue to have an impact on the communities where he lives and works. Come join us in honoring his ongoing legacy at the Newark Arts Honors Gala on March 29, 2017.