Two short years after President Obama became the first African American president to hold Presidential office, artist Willie Little began an ambitious satirical body of work about racism in the tea party movement, titled “In the Hood”. He began sculpting, painting, and crafting his multimedia creations, shaping his impressions of Tea Party rhetoric into solid representations of what they symbolized to him; a return to the racist roots of the South — a modern KKK.
He started on the work in 2010, in the height of the Tea Party movement’s surge across the country. It set out to answer the following questions, according to Little’s website:
They want to take America back?
At what cost?
Several years into his project, Little developed a life-threatening illness and was forced to put his work on hold as he recovered. After regaining his health, he pushed ahead with his vision, and now, Little’s exhibition “In the Hood,” is currently showing at the Charlotte New Gallery of Modern Art. It stands tall in the museum alongside some of the most important art in the nation.
It’s theme? An indictment of tea party extremists who perpetuate the ideology of the KKK.
One of his main strategies, Little told the Charlotte Observer, is to surround racist artifacts with hip-hop symbols, wedding “the KKK with the very culture it may hate so much, thus becoming perhaps its metaphorical worst nightmare.” Of course, the exhibition has a ton of symbolic teabags, ranging from “cheap grocery-store bags” to “trendy silken pyramidal bags” — which the artist has shaped into miniature Klan hoods.
The Observer a describes the installation (which you can see bits and pieces of in the snapshots below):
The centerpiece of the show is the title work, a large installation that is, literally, in the hood – a 20-foot-tall walk-in Klan hood that houses disturbing objects.
Inside the hood is a life-size figure – Little’s rendition of the Hottentot Venus, an enslaved South African woman named Sarah Baartman, who was displayed in London freak shows because of her enormous buttocks and may have inspired the bustle. Here, her skirt is made from 1,000 hand-dipped black teabags. Above her is a chandelier of ornamental pearl strands, interspersed with blackface baby dolls.
Little’s website discusses the work:
Through socio-political satire, the multimedia installation alludes to the irrationality of America’s nouveau KKK (a vocal extreme right faction of the new Tea Party)* and its rise to the mainstream with its shameless, divisive rhetoric and obsession with race, blame, and hyperbole. In the Hood contrasts elements of the defiant, ever present, mocked, ridiculed, yet copied Hip Hop culture, with the phenomena of new emerging Tea Party. The farcical parody is the juxtaposition of this unlikely pair. The union weds the KKK with the very culture it may hate so much, thus becoming perhaps its metaphorical worst nightmare.
The subject of the work is a personal topic close to the artist’s heart; Willie Little is an African American man who was born and raised in rural North Carolina. Understandably, many of his works are rooted in the Southern traditions of his upbringing. Little says his art “sees beauty in history and decay”.
While creating “In the Hood”, Little often thought about being an idealistic 18-year-old heading to predominately white UNC Chapel Hill. At the time, he had a visioned ofhis future “in a country filled with racial harmony.” Instead, he said, “I’m saddened that we have to have Moral Mondays in my home state, I’m saddened that there is voter suppression in my home state, I’m saddened that there are Selma-like militia police forces in this country in 2014.”
Little is a well-known multimedia artist whose work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and in many other cities across the US as well as internationally.
You can learn more about the artist and his work at WillieLittle.com.