The Gorilla Lends a Helping Hand to the United States and the Telephone Company

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
1988
Wood, enamel, carpet, telephone wire, mop, industrial sealing compound, on plywood
48 x 53 inches

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Dial, Jr.’s work features an African American female telephone operator (Yellow Pages book in her arms) sitting in the outstretched hand of a giant gorilla (the only part of its body that is visibl

Dial, Jr.’s work features an African American female telephone operator (Yellow Pages book in her arms) sitting in the outstretched hand of a giant gorilla (the only part of its body that is visible). The background is made up of the red, white, and blue stripes of the American flag, adorned by two massive stars in the two upper corners of the work and a third star in the left bottom corner. The final features include a telephone company building wired to a home by means of two cruciform telephone poles, and wired also to the gorilla's hand and to the operator's hand-held telecommunications device. A number of tricky significations are concentrated in this composition. The seated female figure should remind any culturally literate viewer of the film King Kong, in which the monstrous primate pursues the white actress, Fay Wray, and holds her struggling in his fisted hand. By contrast, this gorilla is entirely benign, gently supporting a black female figure in its open hand. The cruciform telephone poles suggest the suffering and travail often hidden behind working-class productivity in U.S. society. That theme converges effectively with the central figure of the gorilla and the black woman as together offering a "helping hand to the United States and the telephone company." The coded significations suggest the following import: black people generally and black women in particular are a principal source of the productivity and effectiveness of this nation's utilities and greatness, and their travail is transformative (redemptive?) in ways that are often covert and unacknowledged.