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Booker’s Exhibition showcases wonderful complexity in sculpture

Since the beginning of the summer, Chakaia Booker’s exhibition “SpeakEasy” has been available at the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) in the Kniznick Gallery. The exhibition will remain at Brandeis until Nov. 4. It is no surprise that Booker’s work is currently on display at the Kniznick: The gallery is committed to feminist exhibitions of artistic excellence that reflect the work and activities of WSRC scholars.

During the extended period of time in which the exhibition will remain at Brandeis, students have the option to drop by at any time during weekdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to admire Booker’s idiosyncratic and unique abstract sculptures. Her sculptures are made from automobile tires, which address cultural, gender and environmental issues through their forms. Booker’s sculptures imply the metaphysical. “SpeakEasy” can be obscure and surprising, but Booker’s manipulation is so dexterous and nimble that the exhibition is so provocative and compelling from the moment the viewer steps into the gallery.

The WSRC is hosting a reception for the exhibition on Tuesday, Oct. 18, from 5-8 p.m. The following day, Booker will be paying a visit to the WSRC from 4-5:30 p.m. to talk about her “SpeakEasy” exhibition and her life journey as a sculptor.  


The exhibition has already brought a lot of attention. In fact, Booker is well known for her monumental sculptures made from discarded automobile tires, and she has become one of the most important American contemporary sculptors working today. In the past, she has participated in both group and solo exhibitions, nationally and internationally, in places such as the Neuberger Museum of Art, the Akron Museum of Art, the Marlborough Gallery, the Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta and the P.S.I. Contemporary Art Center in Queens—not to mention an exhibition held at the White House during 1996 entitled, “Twentieth Century American Sculpture.” In the year 2000, she gained international acclaim at the Whitney Biennial with “It’s So Hard to Be Green” (a 12.5 x 21 foot wall-hung tire sculpture). For her nuance work, she has received several accolades, including a Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2002 and Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. She is also quite accomplished academically, holding a B.A. in sociology from Rutgers University and an M.F.A. from the City College of New York.

The tires that Booker utilized to create the sculptures resonated with her for their versatility and rich range of historical and cultural associations. She sliced, twisted, weaved and riveted them into utterly distinct new forms and textures. According to her, the range of tones of the rubber represents the array of tones that are found in human diversity. Furthermore, the tire treads suggest images as varied as African scarification and textile designs. The noticeable marks of wear and tear on the tires symbolize the physical marks of human aging. Also, according to Booker, the use of discarded tires references industrialization, consumer culture and environmental concerns.

The “SpeakEasy” exhibition is an open reading, meaning that it is up to the spectator to discover the sculptures’ different meanings and decipher its overlapping themes. The exhibition is formulating, and will continue to do so, multiple dialogues and interpretations. This is why Booker’s art has received worldwide critical acclaim, as her art is quite dimensional and there are more than enough angles to view it from. And if it creates a conversation where themes overlap and one thing leads to the other, it usually signifies that it is art—real art.


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