Thursday, September 11, 2008

In memoriam Michael Richards (1963-2001)

Michael Richards (1963-2001)

Self-portrait as Saint Sebastian

Michael Richards was a 37 year old African American artist who explored his people's history and identity through sculpture, conceptual art, and installation pieces. Deeply influenced by the Black Arts Movement of the 1970's, Richards delved into African American history and folklore for the images that would expose the contradictions of American society.

Richards, who was born in Jamaica, was also one of thousands who perished in the 9-11 terror attacks upon the World Trade Center. Richards was working in his 92nd floor studio in tower one when terrorists crashed their hijacked civilian airliner into the building. By the time the second plane struck tower two... Richards and all of his latest creations had been destroyed.

Michael Richards worked primarily in bronze, and he cast his own body for several sculptures, including his 1999, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian (pictured above). That work memorialized the Tuskegee Airmen, the brave African American World War II Air Force Pilots who served as a segregated unit, and who's alma mater subjected Black men to live experiments with syphilis. Richards portrayed a Black serviceman as Saint Sebastian (the early Christian martyr executed by being shot full of arrows), by showing an Airman pierced by W.W.II fighter planes. The Tuskegee airmen sculpture series has taken on a strangely prophetic aura since the tragedy of 9-11. The bronze statue of the valiant pilot pierced by airplanes could easily serve as a metaphor for the World Trade Towers... or the artist himself.

The untimely death of Michael Richards is only a single sad story out of thousands, but it's one I find particularly poignant. African Americans have always been at the forefront of struggle for social change and justice in America, and Richards' critical voice exposing American racism was part of that ongoing effort. That this progressive Artist's life could be so brutally crushed only serves to illustrate terrorism's reactionary nature. Terror never brings liberation... such nihilism can only rob humanity. The art of Michael Richards will live on in museums, private collections, and in the memories of the people who encountered his challenging aesthetics.

1 comment:

bustrófedon said...

Gracias, Machete. No estaba enterado de la obra de Richards. Escalofriante el autorretrato como San Sebastián.