Sweat + Inspiration = Art

Willie Cole is an American visual artist, known particularly for his use of domestic objects to create inspiring works. Many of his better known works involve the use of an iron or ironing boards. Struck by the connection to black domestic workers and the similarities between the iron and the format of a slave ship, Cole let the art guide him to create tributes to the culture of the enslaved black people stolen from their homes and the women who labored in domestic work.

Willie Cole’s piece, “Man, Spirit, and Mask”

In the video, “Willie Cole’s Beauties and Bottles”, Cole discusses how the work ‘spoke’ to him, and told him that they were a representation of the women who labored and suffered in domestic work, much like Delia did in Hurston’s “Sweat”. The story describes how skinny she had become and how knotty her knuckles looked due to her slaving over her washing work. Cole Rogers, who assisted Willie Cole in the creation of the ironing board prints, talks about how they flattened the boards so they could be processed and printed properly, like Delia, who had been beaten down by Sykes for years before she lifted a hand to protect herself. Even as the story progresses, Sykes continues to torture her with the snake and by flaunting his affair in her face while she’s in town working hard to keep food on the table for them both. Cole’s ironing boards and Delia are mirror images of each other.

3 thoughts on “Sweat + Inspiration = Art

  1. I think the idea of Delia being broken down like Cole’s ironing boards is really interesting and speaks a lot to the way that Delia is described as “work-worn” throughout the story. Delia bears the marks of hard work just like the ironing board does, but like you point out, part of the suffering she endures is abuse from Sykes and not necessarily from doing the washing. I think that the fact that the ironing boards resemble slave ships furthers your comparison, since the ironing boards call back to abuse and slavery along with how they can show being beaten down by work.

  2. I like the use of the word “flatten” which I think also means to beat someone down. Remembering how long Sykes had been beating Delia and how difficult it was to prep the boards makes me remember how strong you have to be to even continue in an environment such as that.

  3. I agree with Cole and Hannah that the way you described Willie Cole as giving the boards a “beaten-down” look was very insightful. One look think that he was only trying to make them look used, like Delia’s boards, but there is clearly a more profound meaning.

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