Last year, the National Museum of Women in the Arts selected artist Chakaia Booker to display four large sculptures made of out of recycled tires in front of the museum on New York Avenue, between 12th and 13th Streets NW, in Washington DC. The abstract, intricately textured sculptures, which were made specifically for the location, are created almost entirely from black rubber tires.
Prior to the installation of Booker’s recycled rubber sculptures, the NMWA featured very colorful works by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle of dancing women. In contrast, Booker’s sculptures have a much more sober tenor. Even though they are almost uniform in their materiality, the sculptures display an impressive level of depth, contrast and interplay with their surroundings.
The sculptures aren’t just beautiful, abstract objects; there is social meaning in both the color and material Chakaia uses. “Chakaia talks about, as an African American artist, the different colors in the tires, from shiny black to slightly dusty gray to a brownish tinge that she likens to the color of people’s skin,” NMWA director Susan Fisher Sterling told the Washington Post last year. “The tire treads, she says, reminds her of scarification and tattoos, and that adds to the organic dimension.”
In addition to race and gender, Booker’s sculptures deal with globalization and environmental issues. Even though they are made by a durable, mass-produced material, Booker reshapes the cut-up tires into varied organic forms. “Shape Shifter,” one of the works on display on New York Avenue, has a human-like form. According to Arts Observer, Booker uses computer-aided design software to create models for her sculptures, and she builds them onto frames made of pressure-treated wood or steel rods.Booker’s sculptures will be on display until March 9, 2014.