Roberto Visani: Form/Reform

March 12 - June 12, 2022

In his first solo museum exhibition, Roberto Visani forms and reforms art historical depictions of enslaved people through research, digital modeling, and laser-cut cardboard segments. What results are semi-fragmented, semi-abstract, monumental sculptures assembled from do-it-yourself kits the artist calls cardboard slave kits. Produced between 2020 and 2022, Visani’s sculptures reexamine art historical depictions of the institution of American chattel slavery and examine the Black body through a reinterpretation of historical artworks and artifacts.

In Form/Reform, Visani reimagines several classical sculptural tropes: the nude, the bust, the monument, the equestrian statue. There is a comfort in their familiarity. However, the narratives that Visani’s sculptures present differ from the presidential busts and Greek nudes regularly displayed in museums. As reinterpretations, they frame the work in both the past and present, and in doing so they ask us to confront the uncomfortable history and ongoing legacy of slavery.

In developing the cardboard slave kits, Visani also alludes to slavery’s role as an economic engine for growth in the United States. Just before the dawn of the Civil War, the combined value placed on enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the United States. Recently, historians have pointed to the instruments of slavery, found explicitly in the systems of cotton plantations in the South, as the birthplace of America’s present-day “low-road capitalism,” to use sociologist Joel Rogers’s term—a capitalist structure that promotes poverty wages, normalized insecurity, and massive disparities.¹

In this sense, the cardboard slave kits reference both capitalism and the commodified body. The kits themselves are presented as products for sale. We also see this reflected in the primary material: cardboard. Cardboard is used to ship goods. It is seemingly abundant. Cardboard is malleable. It can be flattened or dimensional. Visani’s interest in “the metaphor between cardboard and the human body”² raises questions about the impact of slavery on the body, mind, and community–questions that disproportionately affect Black people and continue to reverberate in today’s sociopolitical landscape.

All the sculptures in the show start with cut-out cardboard parts. Like 3D puzzles, they are assembled—perhaps by the artist, a consumer, or a group of people. It’s here where Visani’s work moves from stand-alone object to “social sculpture,” a term coined by the German artist Joseph Beuys. One approach to the practice of social sculpture is to invite the audience to participate in completing a work of art. Similarly, when encountering Visani’s sculptures, we can think about the act of building these pieces ourselves. Thinking about constructing the cardboard slave kits offers an opportunity for reflection and dialogue among those who choose to engage with these objects and the narratives they represent. Alan W. Moore has posited the notion that if spectators become participants, social sculpture can lead to social change.³ In that sense, viewing the final form and in thinking about building Roberto Visani’s cardboard slave kits, we can enter a pathway of social transformation layered with emotional, political, and historical forces.

— David Rios Ferreira, Curator

My creative work often involves a reinterpretation of historical artworks and artifacts. I use these archival materials to explore the anonymity that technology engenders and how our identity interfaces with it. In a more visceral sense, I make physical, dimensional, figurative sculptures that move between representation and abstraction. My sculptures explore a past/present/future technology and a past/present/future body—in particular, a Black body. I am interested in the transformation, translation, and transportation of this body through time and space. I use a combination of digital and traditional tools, processes, and materials to this end.

The artworks on view are from the cardboard slave kits, a series of do-it-yourself flat-pack sculptures. Each kit is a recreation of a historical artwork depicting an enslaved individual. Accompanying the kits are laser-cut drawings that reposition our relationship to the individuals depicted. The cardboard slave kits represent an invitation to be part of the creation and to consider complex issues around race, technology, representation, and slavery today. 

— Roberto Visani


¹ Matthew Desmond, 2019, “In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.” The New York Times Magazine. (retrieved on March 3, 2022)

² Caitlin Meehye Beach, Roberto Visani, “Unpacking Wedgwood: An Interview with Roberto Visani,” British Art Studies, Issue 21. (retrieved on March 3, 2022)

³ Alan W. Moore, “A Brief Genealogy of Social Sculpture,” The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest. (retrieved on March 3, 2022)


April 21, Thursday, 7 p.m. —  Historical Depictions of Slavery
May 14, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Celebration of Spring Exhibits
May 26, Thursday, 7 p.m. — Artist & Curator Tour: Roberto Visani and David Rios Ferreira


Roberto Visani’s Sculptures Reconfigure Slavery in Art HistorySeven Days (4/20/22)
Rethinking Abolitionist IconsWonderland (5/9/22)


Virtual tour
Installation shots
Video: Installation Timelapse of FORM/REFORM at BMAC
cardboard slave kit, liberty blend – A Work in Progress
Ask the Artist!