Press play to watch the artist video.
American, born 1967
Michael Ray Charles was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1967, when the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement was giving way to riotous social and cultural upheaval. Like artists Kara Walker (born 1969) and Fred Wilson (born 1954), in his work Charles explores African and African American oppression and prejudice. He is best known for work that appropriates derogatory images in order to disparage racist stereotypes. For (Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations, Charles departs from this mode and takes a more metaphorical approach, explaining, “Conceptual and representational applications of power throughout visual cultures past and present have been among my most significant triggers of creative inspiration.”
(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations is suspended in the atrium of the Gordon-White Building, home to centers that are committed to studying the history and experience of minority cultures. Charles selected the location because it joins a classic 1952 university building to a newly constructed addition used by students and scholars of the historically marginalized. In designing the atrium’s interior, he preserved architectural ornaments from the original building and added rough, exposed surfaces to create a meaningful segue into the polished departmental offices. The result is both sculpture and site—a symbolic transition between the inherited establishment and a future that explores new ways of thinking and being.
Charles’ sculpture is made from wooden crutches assembled in groups to create star-shaped wheels. The individual parts maintain their own trajectory, yet form a common mass in an energetic composition. When imagining the project, Charles was partly inspired by the activity of scholars who study minority cultures and the challenges they have faced in academic institutions. (Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations, now the centerpiece of a thriving enterprise that champions multiculturalism and diversity, is emblematic of institutional progress and transformation. By claiming the wounds of the past and acknowledging the support needed to heal, it recognizes all who have suffered inequality and carries the promise of future growth and hope.
Location: Gordon-White Building (GWB) Atrium
GPS: 30.287975, -97.740116