Wearable Artwork Makes Noise Against Racism

Studio 360

This is not a story about Nick Cave the Australian rock star. This is a story about a different Nick Cave: a Missouri-born fabric artist, sculptor, and dancer. Cave has become famous in the art world for what he calls "soundsuits," wearable sculptures composed of bottle caps, sweaters, toy drums, globes, metal buckets, tambourines, purses, and anything else Cave finds rummaging through flea markets.

See photos of Nick Cave's soundsuits below.

Inspired by the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991, Cave's soundsuits have become increasingly relevant in the wake of recent violence against African Americans and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. "I think his work gives us a starting point for a conversation we really have to have," says Laura Mott, the curator of a major retrospective of Cave's work at the Cranbook Art Museum, in suburban Detroit.

I'm just lucky that I have this medium as a way of expressing things that are difficult for me in the world. --- Nick Cave

Since he completed his first one over 20 years ago, Cave has created 500 soundsuits, approximately 30 of which are on display in the exhibit, called "Here Hear." Cave made one of his most recent pieces, "TM13,"in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Like much of Cave's work, it's grounded in the real world, but the sculpture is elevated to a dreamier place. With its incorporation of plastic figures like Santa Claus and a teddy bear, "TM13" seems to refer to Martin's youth. But the figure is also wrapped tightly in a net, giving the sculpture a sense of suffocation.

"I don't even know if I'm making art," Cave says. "I'm not thinking about it like that. I'm just lucky that I have this medium as a way of expressing things that are difficult for me in the world."

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