Skip to main content
image alt

Torkwase Dyson

A Place Called Dark Black (Bird and Lava)


image alt

This large-scale abstract painting is part of Torkwase Dyson's Bird and Lava series, an exploration of spaces of ecological, architectural, and infrastructural liberation. The foundational geometric shapes that comprise her works—squares, trapezoids, and curved lines—are connected to the history of Black resistance and the individuals who traversed geographies in the United States to escape slavery. The square refers to Henry Box Brown, who had himself shipped in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia in 1849. The trapezoid is culled from the experiences of Harriet Jacobs, who spent seven years in an attic crawlspace, as recounted in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). The curve comes from the hull of a ship, such as the one in which Anthony Barnes escaped from Richmond to Boston in 1854. A large circle built up of cumulative layers of washes and textures dominates Dyson's dark, aqueous composition. The strong horizon line dividing the circle creates a delineation between, above, and below that suggests a segregation of space but also exists as an interstitial zone. As the artist describes it, that line, combined with the watery composition, evokes broad ideas of extraction (of resources and bodies), while the diagrammatic markings surrounding the circle allude to the ways in which Black bodies (both past and present) move around the planet. [Permanent collection label, 2022]

  • Artist Torkwase Dyson (American, b. 1973)
  • Title A Place Called Dark Black (Bird and Lava)
  • Date 2020
  • Medium Acrylic and ink on canvas
  • Dimensions unframed | 96 x 80 x 2 in.
  • Credit line University purchase, Parsons Fund and Bixby Fund, 2021
  • Object number WU 2021.0006

Torkwase Dyson: Bird and Lava
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 03/22/2023 - 07/10/2023

Received at MLKAM 9/2/2021; ACC approval 11/11/2021; payment received by Pace 1/27/2022
Nancy Rattenbury, senior registrar, Pace Gallery (New York)

This artwork record may be incomplete or need refinement. Our staff actively researches the collection and revises records when new information is available. If you have questions or comments about this record, please contact us.