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.

Build You Up or Tear You Down, Music is Always Around

King Vidor’s Hallelujah! tackles the themes of black religion and black sexuality through the thick lens of music. The main character, Zeke, experiences a ‘Prodigal Son’ like story, leaving his family behind to pursue his lust for Chick, then returning to open arms after she has an affair then dies from falling out of the buggy. Through every moment Zeke develops and changes, music backs him to show his transformations. Howard’s article, “Hallelujah!: Transformation in Film” divulges the secrets of how Vidor expressed Zeke’s reshaping throughout the film.

(left to right) Hot Shot, Chick, and Zeke from the film Hallelujah! (1929)

One of the most interesting details Howard expresses is that when Zeke undergoes a change, so does his speech. As she points out, when the protagonist experiences an awakening moment, whether it be in the name of religion or lust, Zeke’s “voice becomes gradually affected, moving from the realm of everyday talking to that of recitation, chanting, song-chanting, and finally to song itself” (444). This particular use of song struck me because it shows that music doesn’t necessarily push him only toward Christianity. Most pieces would use song to show the character getting closer to God, while this film shows that music isn’t exclusive to religion.