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MIDDLE PASSAGE, 1978
ED WILSON, 1925-1996
CONCRETE, BRONZE, 9'-11" X 8' X 1'-10"

In the three exterior sculptures at Boys’ and Girls’ High School the artists explored different sculptural problems: Todd Williams focused on kineticism;  Chris Sheldon experimented with color and structure; and Ed Wilson created sculpture as a maker of memory. 

 

Wilson--who can be described as a modeler, space shaper, memory catcher-- conceived of Middle Passage in a flash of brilliance en route to New York to meet with the school’s architect. Three Brutalist concrete monoliths, ten feet tall, gently curved to recreate the hull of a ship, constitute the body of the piece.  Six loosely modeled bronze reliefs inset in the concrete narrate the inhumanity and brutality of the slave trade.  The series begins with the capture, showing figures in a forced march struggling against their oppressors.  In the next sequence, the viewer is surrounded on either side by a curved concrete wall divided by bronze reliefs that start at about five feet off the ground.  In these plaques, humans are reduced to a series of protruding heads, arranged over three tiers.  In the next set, bodies are laid out like corpses. On the end panels, torsos and shackled heads are crowded together. In the last panel, a chain of slaves surviving the three-month ordeal are marched off the boat in a line. 

 

Underscoring the historical impetus of the work, the central pylon features a descriptive plaque providing information on the Middle Passage.  In the original design, Middle Passage also included a concrete podium/altar that invited the viewer to step up to the piece and bore a plaque, endowing the installation /sculpture with a sacred quality.  Part of the effectiveness of the piece is its ability to recreate a sense of claustrophobia for the viewer, who cannot avoid looking at the graphic bronze reliefs.

PLAZA
1700 FULTON STREET, BROOKLYN, NY

Schools in building:
Boys and Girls High School
Research and Service High School
Nelson Mandela High School

Find related art work:
Theme
RAILROAD
HISTORY
AFRICAN AMERICAN
AFRICA
SLAVERY

Time Period
Civil Rights Era Art

Artist
ED WILSON