“From tutankhamen’s Tomb to the tomb of the Urban warrior”, Understanding Art

From Tutankhamen’s Tomb to the Tomb of the Urban Warrior

by: Lois Fischner-Rathus

Consider some sad facts of contemporary life in the United States. Violence has replaced communicable diseases as the leading cause of death among young people in the United States during the past generation. Young African-American men are about nine times as likely as European Americans to be victims of homicide. About nine out of ten of African-American victims are killed by other African-American youths. Moreover, the prison population of African-American youths has been mushrooming. Because of such statistics, social commentators have been concerned about “the vanishing African-American male.”

So, too, have artists labored to bring various tragedies of modern like to the attention of the public – from the AIDS epidemic to environmental degradation to, in this case, urban self-genocide.

Hall of Judgement from Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths, 1990.

Dawn Dedeaux’s installation, Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths, is an interactive work that brings home the tragedy of urban violence to participants (we cannot say “viewers”). Figure 1-33 shows the long Hall of Judgment, which leads to the Tomb of the Urban Warrior. The plan is altogether consistent with that of ancient tombs. Along each side of the Hall are five video cell rooms. The installation is reminiscent both of urban housing projects and, of course, of a prison corridor. The doors have photos from Dedeaux’s “Who’s in Jail” series. Surveillance cameras and motion detectors ensnare the participants as they have entrapped the subjects of the installation. Rap music and the sounds of a gospel choir compete for attention with the videos of urban youth within the cells. Metallic gold is used in the architecture and imagery of the tomb, as if to draw a connection between that symbol of empowerment as found in Tutankhamen’s Tomb and the yearning of today’s youth for gold chains, rings, medallions, and earrings.

The gilded, life-sized photograph of former gang leader Wayne Hardy greets the observer from the entranceway to the tomb. Hardy takes the stance of Pan-Ku, the Chinese god of chaos and fate. Pan-Ku traditionally holds a shield inscribed with yin and yang, suggestive of the forces and counterforces of the universe. Hardy, however, holds a shooting target. The hallway leading to the tomb narrows, heightening the natural perspective. Fluorescent light seeps from underneath the walls into the hallway, suggesting that the structures as do the lives of the warriors float in a sea of flame.