William Ransom: Keep Up/Hold Up

October 23, 2021 - March 5, 2022

Bearing the weight of white supremacist history, William Ransom’s sculptural installation creates a transitory provisional state, rife with an inherent unease and uncertainty. Ransom’s massing of slender wood strips bent and bound by charred wood or metal clamps creates tension. If the sculpture were unclamped, the compressed energy would release with force, suggesting that Black spirit and experience are artificially restricted by dominant society. The Stars and Stripes painted across the narrow, stacked edges of wood invite multiple interpretations. They may signify an inherent fragility in a pluralistic society—or alternately, they hold the hope of E Pluribus Unum, that out of many we will one day become one. The installation draws attention to the underlying instabilities and stresses of our country’s current state of social tension and the ever-present potential for flare-up or collapse. 

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

I am measured first by my blackness. Our national story predetermines through the weight of white supremacy and its deliberately established structures how my very existence is perceived. I am simultaneously compelled to keep up (maintain) my blackness and to hold up (check) my blackness. 

At times, I want the freedom simply to make beautiful objects that are reflective of my experience and representative of my aesthetic interests. However much I may see myself as an individual, as a Black man I still have to contend with other people’s views. Everything exists in context, and so regardless of the work I make, it will be read through the inescapable lens of my blackness. This reality and this historical moment compel my work to speak to my blackness, because we can hold up and wait no longer for the weight of established structures and systems to be recognized and the tensions of history to be reckoned with.

The literal material tensions in my work reflect the weight I experience as a Black man in America. The forces brought to bear on the material pull into sharp focus the tensions endured by Black bodies in the face of slights and slurs and violence.

History cannot be undone, but if we examine with clear-eyed focus the truths of history, we can see the ways in which the tensions of today are the direct result of the weight of the past.

— William Ransom


December 2, Thursday, 7 p.m. — Artist Talk: William Ransom


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