jenelle Porter, Surface Design Journal, December 7, 2017

Consider the punching bag. Scaled to the human body, it’s got some give to its skin and insides but is otherwise stolid and heavy. Everlast. The symbolism is lost on no one, whether one might consider the punching bag the recipient of relentless and brutal contact, a projection of anger or frustration, or a symbol of enduring resistance.


Jeffrey Gibson’s series of punching bag sculptures celebrates this multifaceted potency with colorful beads, painted surfaces, shiny metal jingles, and other adornments. He first incorporated a punching bag in a sculpture in 2011, and it took over a year to make as he taught himself to sew and bead. His most recent bag, more refined and precise in its facture, is titled POWER POWER POWER (2017). The patterned beading incorporates text reading from the top down: “POWER POWER POWER WHITE POWER BLACK POWER RED POWER BLUE POWER PURPLE POWER PINK POWER GREEN POWER YELLOW POWER POWER POWER POWER.” The colors and text praise racial, sexual, and gender acceptance, and are the artist’s response to the recent social and political threats to these triumphs. For Gibson, one way to counter attacks on civil liberties is to celebrate color, to respond with a kind of chant or song, to install a punching bag shaped LGBTQ flag in a bid to “queer up” the mechanisms.

For some years now, Gibson has been jamming up the mechanisms, making art that epitomizes his formative experiences, both on the margins of his own heritage and as a participant in marginal subcultures, such as club music. Because his father was in the military, Gibson grew up in the United States, Korea, and Germany.


He is Choctaw/Cherokee. He locates much of his work to a profound period in the early and mid-1990s while an art student at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, when he worked as an intern at The Field Museum of Natural History assisting visiting tribal delegations in their research of ethnographic objects. There, he learned about sacred objects firsthand from tribal elders. But it was his interaction with objects considered culturally indeterminate, for example scraps of cloth with unidentifiable patterns or beaded “whimsies” made for tourists…

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