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Levester Williams

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Levester Williams (based in Philadelphia, PA) creates work that explores the relationships between objects and beings, language and the world. In his artworks, questions arise from the politics and poetics of identity, space/place, boundaries, and the body congeal into forms of sculptures, installations, sound, animations, drawings, and videos.

Featured Artwork (Tab to skip section.)


Tar Ball

Collection of Darryl Atwell

Unclean bedsheets from a Virginia penitentiary, tar, flies, and other media

For this four foot sculpture, unwashed bed sheets taken from a Virginia penitentiary are bundled into a ball reminiscent of the iron balls historically used as ankle weights to shackle prisoners. With dead flies caught in its thick layer of tar coating, the sheets evoke the history of so-called “chain gangs,” the teams of prisoners who in the past labored unpaid to lay the roads that crisscross the U.S.

The work also serves as a reminder of the present-day “state road crews” and prison labor that continue to maintain the roads, who are now paid between 25 cents to $1.25 an hour. The history of tarring and feathering in the United States, and its complex relationship to lynching and racial terror, also lays heavily on the surface of Tar Ball, as legacies of forced labor, racial terror, prisons, and jails coalesce in the viscous material.

Levester William’s work is also featured in the following Barring Freedom study guide: From the Inside Out

Williams received his B.F.A. from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and his M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University. His works have been included in exhibitions at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, BronxArtSpace, Bronx, NY, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC, Museum of African Design, Johannesburg, South Africa, and, among others, the Institute of Humanities, Ann Arbor, Michigan. His select awards include the U.S. Fulbright Research in the Arts Grant and Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture. His select residencies include Skowhegan’s School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, ME, Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, Recycled-Artist-in-Residence (RAIR), Philadelphia, PA, and the Bag Factory, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Suggested Reading

Barrett, Lindon

Blackness and Value : Seeing Double

Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Dokou, Christina

“Vowel Obstruction: (Not) Screamin’ Joy out of ‘Real Pain.’” (Re)Constructing Pain and Joy: Linguistic, Literary, and Cultural Perspectives.

Ed. Chryssoula Lascaratou, Anna Despotopoulou, and Elly Ifantidou. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008, 395–413.

Black Skin, White Masks

Are Prisons Obsolete?

Grove Press. 2008

Marriott, David

“On Decadence: Bling Bling” #79

February 2017

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