Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles

Exhibition Date: September 14, 2013 – January 20, 2014
Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Bringing together more than forty works from the United States and Europe, this exhibition examines Barbara Chase-Riboud’s artistic career, focusing primarily on her important Malcolm X sculptures. Five works from that series—among them the Museum’s Malcolm X #3 of 1969—and five closely related sculptures are included. A group of drawings from the late 1960s and early 1970s made during the development of the Malcolm X series and roughly twenty of the artist’s Monument Drawings from 1996–97 are also on view.
Chase-Riboud conceived the first Malcolm X in early 1969 while in Paris, where she moved in late 1960 after completing a graduate degree in architecture at Yale University. Abstract sculptures that combine cast bronze with wrapped skeins of silk and wool, these wholly unique, over life-size works capture a single moment in an endless cycle of transformation. Harmonizing various contradictory associations, they combine the vertical and horizontal, mineral and organic, male and female, heavy and light, rigid and supple.

Chase-Riboud has gracefully fused the elements of armor and textiles in her abstract steles created in homage to Malcolm X, breaking from the traditional depiction of the figure in post-World War II European art. Through their complex materiality, the sculptures also allude to her artistic, cultural, and political experiences in North Africa and China, while in the context of the American Civil Rights Movement they stand as powerful beacons to the possibility of cultural integration that modern art represents. Her exquisite charcoal drawings show an equally sensitive union of diverse references, textures, and forms.
Born in Philadelphia and educated at the Philadelphia High School for Girls and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Chase-Riboud now lives in Paris and Rome. She is both an internationally acclaimed visual artist and an award-winning writer and poet, best known for her 1979 historical novel Sally Hemings. Currently she is preparing two anthologies of her poetry and collected letters for publication.

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