Hold on.

These Nick Cave soundsuits are the fire behind the asses of artists, protestors, and others who speak up against Black oppression in the United States.

Firmly set in his positive ideals, Nick Cave (b. 1959), born in Fulton, Missouri, is an artistic and creative rebel and leader. Cave’s works on the African diaspora and issues in the United States regarding Blacks are catalysts like the speeches Martin Luther King, Jr. gave, but visual. His subject matter is the immersion of African American culture in the States. This visual language is a not-so-secret code of symbols. Visual references and metaphors become some of his many tools to make contextual artwork. Cave’s contextual works force society to look into a mirror. They reference society and what it is and is becoming. These are all things that drive Cave creatively to express African American culture. Nick Cave is the creator of the popular and culturally important explosions called “soundsuits.” Subject matter, symbols, and cultural context can drive an artist’s creativity. Nick Cave, for example, uses subject matter and symbols to portray cultural differences between Africans and whites living in America.

Nick Cave Soundsuits

Nick Cave

Physical Properties of Nick Cave Soundsuits

Meet the twig monster, a physical comparison between Africans and whites living in America. These fashions… costumes… or works of genius art are stunningly colorful, but also multifaceted and rooted in various mediums. Soundsuit (2015) by Nick Cave is mixed media including dogwood twigs, wire, metal and mannequin and is 88” x 36” x 28”. This pile of twigs is actually an explosion of sound and movement. These Nick Cave soundsuits are designed to react with sound to the wearer’s movement. The twigs are important when the person wearing it moves like a small explosion because it creates sounds. Cave uses many colorful, beautiful, found objects from modern times to make his suits and many of them make noises. Aside from these particular Nick Cave soundsuits, many of the Nick Cave soundsuits are made from “beads, raffia, buttons, sequins, twigs, fur, and fabric” (Art 21). Despite his contemporary look that varnishes most of his suites, the particular one has a more ancient feeling. This work, a relationship between African and America, is not just visual; it is dance and sound tied to one bright work of art.

Nick Cave Art

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Subject Matter of Nick Cave Art

Subject matter that rustles in the wind portrays cultural differences between African Americans and whites in America. Nick Cave utilizes noisy, utilitarian, and sacred Dogwood branches in Nick Cave soundsuits. “Dogwood twigs were used by pioneers to brush their teeth. They would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth” (Gunn). Cave is using the original toothbrush still used in poorer countries to move and make sounds in his artworks. The wooden toothbrush is already used in other countries for art, but also spiritual purposes. The raffia and other materials are inspired by African art and ceremonies (Artsy). The twigs from Dogwood trees that Nick Cave uses are utilitarian but also used in spiritual ceremonies in Africa. These materials reference politics, rituals, culture, and identity:

Echoing his ongoing exploration of issues relating to identity and politics, Cave also used recycled materials in a series of sculptures and installations that equally cited crafts and rituals. With these objects and Nick Cave soundsuits, he borrowed from a wide range of disciplines and cultures in an effort to examine and challenge notions of personal and cultural identity. (Raz-Russo)

An American artist working with African materials, on its own, initiates ideas of the politics, identities, and cultures around African Americans. African materials, especially combined with performance art in Nick Cave soundsuits, initiate ideas about rituals too. And with Africans living in America, people can’t help but wonder about identity and how these people probably feel about it. They can’t help but wonder about the cultures that have been oppressed by the African diaspora. Cave is using this allusion to Africa as subject matter for his works. Nick Cave is using African subject matter as a way to reference the prejudice against African Americans.

Nick Cave Suit

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A Nick Cave Suit Symbolism

Visual symbolism to depict the cultural differences between African Americans and whites in the States are utilized in Nick Cave soundsuits. Cave helps people to see these differences in new, innovative, and progressive ways. The materials he uses are symbols. Beads represent typical African American costume. Raffica is native to Africa referencing African life. Furs refer to the animals found in Africa. Twigs represent the harsh African savannah and the rural life of American farmers. Buttons are more common with struggling African Americans in the history of the U.S. who had to make their own clothes and wear overalls as they toil in the fields. Colorful stitched together fabrics also represent the costume of the African and the African-American quilts which were once the only source of income for many Blacks in America. These materials are symbols that reference the ages, classes, genders, and especially races of the American people especially those between African Americans and whites.

Nick Cave Artwork

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Cultural Context of Nick Cave Artwork

There is a disease in America; racism against Blacks is running rampant in the States. One can see in Nick Cave soundsuits that this discrimination is based on things like age, gender, etc… Markers like these are visual and the easiest ones to spot is race and skin color. This is what enables people to be racist and prejudice according to ethnicity. This discrimination against Blacks is a grotesque and ill practice that all too many carry out.

Cultural cruelty, bias, and discrimination between whites and Blacks have no place in Nick Cave’s creative world. Nick Cave soundsuits can be like falling in love at a masked ball, not knowing what you’ll get the same evening when the masks… and other things come off. They can be like children on Halloween where everyone is a goblin or a grool no matter what class, culture, social standing, or family they come from. Interacting with the suit is a dance of love and respect for literally anyone who wears it. Every inch of the wearer is covered by the garment, even the eyes. This is especially true of the basket flipped on its side to mask the wearer’s face. Markers of race like skin color and facial features are invisible. Even the eyes are hidden from onlookers. Respect has no prejudice towards the suit. This disables the viewer to discriminate on visual triggers and the wearer to be void of any discrimination they might receive from the viewer. The mere construction of the suits enable the occupant to be free of any onlookers’ bias because it hides age, class, race, gender, and the likes (Art 21). These pieces that are commentaries on the world and culture around them eliminate all bias and discrimination between whites and African Americans.

Nick Cave Fashion

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The Creative Drives of Nick Cave Fashion

Why would someone want to create works of art in a world where African Americans are exceedingly mal-treatreated? Why have this sort of work in a world where Blacks can’t get jobs or graduate from college? Why express in a system of oppression and unfairness? Why use the visual language to speak up against police brutality in America like in Nick Cave soundsuits? Why does Nick Cave create these expressive and relevant costumes in a country that is split as black and white? Nick Cave is driven to make art with controversial subject matter and symbols to address the othering of African Americans.

There are reasons Nick Cave soundsuits are using fiery symbols and subject matter in his beautiful works of visual protest. Nick Cave’s artwork is as explosive as a molotov cocktail. His work is the flame behind people being attacked and trying to fight back. Nick Cave himself has said that his art is fueling empowerment and change in America (Artsy). Cave’s visual language is art and expression. He uses art as mean to broadcast, advertise, and spread his messages. More importantly, Cave creates art to motivate and instigate something. Cave creates art to inspire people. Cave says he is fueling empowerment. He is using art to inspire people to use their power to speak up and express themselves. Cave says he is fueling change. His art is proof of the oppression of African Americans. Cave is doing all this in reaction to the current treatment of African Americans in the current climate of the country. Nick Cave is driven to use subject matter and symbols to address, communicate, and empower the African American struggle.

Nick Cave Soundsuits

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Nick Cave Sountsuits

Nick Cave

Drawing Conclusions

Subjects, symbols, and cultural context are all important in understanding an artist’s drive to make their artwork as seen in Nick Cave soundsuits. One can use Nick Cave to understand any artist’s drive in making their art. Sure the physical properties of something make the viewer’s eyes flutter with excitement. The subject matter the artist chooses may pull at emotional heartstrings and the symbols may recall images of the past, culture, and everything wrong with society. Nick Cave is doing this in every work of art he designs, but most artists do this as well. By analyzing these things in any work of art gives insight into, not only the creative drives behind a work but the context of the time it was made and what was happening in the world. Cave’s work, for instance, is like carbon dating. A quick sample will reveal how much racism was in the air in Contemporary times. People can use these things to analyze his work and the culture around them Using these techniques Cave expresses the world he lives in and the troubles between African American and whites. Cave uses subject matter and symbols to paint a picture of the maltreatment and injustice of Blacks in America.

Sources

  • Gunn, John C.. Gunn’s Domestic Medicine. 4th ed., 1835. pp. 523.
  • “How Nick Cave Discovered His Purpose as an Artist.” Artsy, 3 Nov. 2017, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-nick-cave-discovered-purpose-artist. Accessed 11 Feb. 2018.
  • “Nick Cave.” Art 21, https://art21.org/artist/nick-cave. Accessed 11 Feb. 2018.
  • “Nick Cave.” Jack Shainman Gallery, http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/nick-cave. Accessed 11 Feb. 2018.
  • Raz-Russo, Michal. “Nick Cave.” Enciclopedia Britanica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nick-Cave-American-artist. Accessed 9 Apr. 2018.

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Written by

Topher is the founder and editor of Culture Hog Magazine. He studies art history and works at the Oakland Museum of California. Topher values strong community and worldwide healing and progress via the arts.

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