Image: Sanford Biggers, Banneker (detail), 2016. Antique quilt, plywood, gold leaf. 111 x 157 x 38cm.
Since the 1990s Sanford Biggers has created works that embrace the vast array of his interests which include African American history, Japanese culture, identity, politics, social issues, music (particularly hip hop), images drawn from Buddhism, lotuses, mandalas and other spiritual geometric patterns, diagrams, advertising, and more. He deliberately contaminates his compositions with apparently unrelated elements and symbols in order to create new associations and perspectives for the viewer. Also, with the seemingly disjuncted titles he assigns his pieces, Biggers invites the viewer to formulate their own narrative, interpreting subjectively the connections and the message.
Biggers now lives in Harlem, New York, but he was born and raised in Los Angeles. He is a multifaceted conceptual artist whose work includes sculpture, installation, video, music, drawing, and performance. Biggers studied painting, but he has never worked with a single medium, and while his compositions are diverse, they feel connected.
However it manifests, Biggers’ work refers to current social, political, and economic issues. The artist is convinced that politics and content can be embedded in the choice of material. That is certainly what was inferred in the recent exhibition Codeswitch at the Bronx Museum, which was a survey of his quilt-based compositions. In the short video, above, Biggers introduces the exhibition and some background on his connection to the Bronx Museum.
Image: Sanford Biggers, Nomad (detail), 2019.
The tradition of quilt-making plays an important role in American culture and vibrates even more in African American communities, such as Gee’s Bend in Alabama where since the 19th century women have been producing a great number of quilts. Quilts are important African-American visual and cultural contributions in American craft production. That heritage has been continued and expanded by contemporary artists such as Faith Ringgold, Emma Amos, and of course Sanford Biggers. Biggers started to use quilts as a medium in 2009 when he produced a project for the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia, which had been erected along the Underground Railroad in the mid-nineteenth century used by enslaved African Americans to escape to states where slavery had been abolished…
This excerpt was taken from Codeswitch: The Quilts of Sanford Biggers in Issue 100 Anniversary, our current issue. Find out more about how to read the rest of this article.