André Leon Gray’s 2010 sculpture What Does Revolution Sound Like? is filled with symbolism. At the top of the work, the Raleigh artist created a tar painting on canvas, a portrait of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743 –1803), leader of the Haitian Revolution. Below that is a rattan chair like the one used by Huey Newton of the Black Panthers in his famous pose with rifle and spear. Below that is an empty speaker box.
“The idea behind that is the fact that there is no revolutionary sound right now,” André told us. “Like I said, when I was growing up in the early stages of hip-hop and the infancy in the ’80s, it was a very rebellious sound because these kids were telling their own stories, how they were growing up in their environment and it’s basically kind of like the voice of the voices in a sense, you know? But then nowadays it’s become all part of this whole material culture, and it’s not the same, it’s not the same sound, its’ not the same rebellious or revolutionary sound. So that’s why all you see is the grill on the speaker box and the speakers and the entrails inside is empty, it’s been taken out so there’s no voice like it used to be. There’s no leadership like it used to be as well. That’s what the whole piece is about, the idea of history and the youth today and their tie to history of their lack of their ties to history or their knowledge of history and how they don’t have any leadership nowadays. Everything’s now been pushed to hashtags and whatnot and so there’s no central organization of any kind, no movements, and the funny thing about this piece I did in back in 2010, and of course the title was “What does revolution sound like?” and nowadays with the protest in Ferguson and so forth and even across the world that maybe at some point, some certain degree that there is some kind of sound that’s happening now. It might not necessary be in the music but some other way as well.”
Find out more about André’s work What Does Revolution Sound Like?, part of the current exhibition Area 919: Artists in the Triangle, in this video. Portrait of André Leon Gray by J Caldwell.