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August 18, 2022

Acquisition: Chakaia Booker

Chakaia Booker, 'Egress'

Chakaia Booker
Egress, c. 2000
rubber tires
50 x 53 x 50 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of the Collectors Committee

Chakaia Booker (b. 1953) works almost exclusively with recycled tires to transform familiar symbols of urban waste and blight into extraordinary compositions of renewal. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Egress (c. 2000), the first sculptural work by Booker to enter the collection, joining her woodcut print, Untitled (2011).

In Egress, numerous long, spiraling bands and short, spiky shards of rubber appear to unfurl from within and pour over and around the pedestal. The layers curl, pile, and protrude to form a mound that is simultaneously monstrous and playful, hard and soft, abstract and representational. While the plantlike, layered form recalls ivy or fern, the tracks, treads, and manufacturer name (Cooper) embossed on the sidewalls remind us of the medium's previous automotive life.

Booker's artistic practice is highly physical, from transporting the tires to reshaping them with machinery. Her use of discarded rubber references industrialization and factory labor as well as transportation, consumer culture, and environmental concerns. Her process of salvaging beauty from scraps of black rubber serves as a metaphor for Black American experiences of struggle, strength, and survival. Details of the tires demonstrate the capacity for meaning in Booker's forms: the varied tones that parallel human diversity, the treads suggestive of African scarification and textile designs, and the visible wear and tear that evokes the physical marks of human aging and inevitable distress in life. As she has said, "[my] intention is to translate simple yet complex materials into imagery that stimulates people to reconsider the expressive nature of art and how broad, complex cultural transformations can continue to be expressed through common materials."

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