The Comfort of Moses and the Ten Commandments

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    Photo: Ron Lee/The Silver Factory
1989
Welded steel, wood, burlap, rope, wire, Bondo, paint
72.5 x 34 x 39 inches

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Moses has traditionally been revered by African Americans as the Hoodoo man who led his people from slavery.

Moses has traditionally been revered by African Americans as the Hoodoo man who led his people from slavery. In The Comfort of Moses and the Ten Commandments chair, this star-crossed patriarch, who would wage war with God before succumbing, offers little consolation. Holding separated tablets painted red. perhaps as an allusion to his previous parting of the Red Sea, Moses assumes a hierarchical stance. Instead of being comforted by this chair, as the title implies, individuals who might elect to sit in it and assume Moses’ point of view find their movements obstructed by these tablets. Behind Moses are the mountain and burning bush described in the Bible; they have been abstracted as a splintered old board and a tiny flame composed of brass wires that are repeated on the tablets. In this work, the force of a god who speaks through flames and through a Hoodoo prophet is caricatured and undermined, and Moses becomes an ambiguous symbol of frustrated defiance, of no-longer-relevant acquiescence, and of understandable human confusion as to his and his people’s role. This cartoon-like patriarch can also be considered a trickster who hides his power, makes fun of his assigned role as Gods emissary, and leaves viewers wondering if his chameleon-like qualities and quixotic nature might in fact be the basis for his incredible success. One might say that Richard Dial’s The Comfort of Moses represents the postmodern discomfort of living without simple and clear rules telling one what to believe and how to act. Prevented from entering the promised land of emancipation, neither Moses nor his laws can be considered accurate guides to the present and the future.