Graveyard Traveler / Selma Bridge

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Photo: Gamma One Conversions
1992
Rope, carpet, burlap, tin, wood, plastic bagging, paint-can lids, pinecones, carpet, plastic hose, wire screen, rope, metal, oil, enamel, and Splash Zone compound on canvas on wood
85.5 x 146 x 6 inches

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The bridge at Selma, Alabama, site of a pivotal civil rights march and correspondingly brutal police suppression, funnels Martin Luther King Jr, guised as a tiger toward his destiny of confrontati

The bridge at Selma, Alabama, site of a pivotal civil rights march and correspondingly brutal police suppression, funnels Martin Luther King Jr, guised as a tiger toward his destiny of confrontation with personal and societal demons. An array of tests, led by a figure mounting a horse with an elongated neck, waits around the blind turn in the road. These tests take the form of embedded found materials rich in historical and sexual double entendres. Rubber hoses and electrical conduits are used by Dial to imply both sex and segregation. Twisted rope recalls the legacy of slavery and lynching. These talismans of violence build upon Dial's thesis that shock and pain catalyze humanity after martyrdom of its heroes. Even the trees (of life) are fabricated of decayed pinecones. which as seeds denote procreative need and messages disseminated through death. Abstract wire marchers stumble across the bridge while birds of freedom alight on its suspensions. Beneath the bridge, amid several empty boats, two black fishermen seek a mighty fish in the depths. The narrative, which begins at top right with storm clouds hanging over Selma, ends, according to Dial, below the bridge at other Southern cities: Montgomery, the destination ofthe Selma march; and Memphis, full of tombstones, the site of King's assassination. At the beginning of the yellow road, a plain figure of King, the Everyman, is carved of negative space in a swatch of carpet. Its cutout mate appears again, black and barely visible at the path's end, across the worldly obstacles, confronted by the serpentine rope road that leads to the graveyard. The piece concludes on the bluesman's note of vanitas, asserting death's inevitability but also suffused with Dial's complex vision of King as both saint and fragile human, object lesson in both fates. Dial elaborates: "As a man live, he is a graveyard traveler. Every move he make, death will move with him. Martin Luther King had to cross Selma Bridge. Every man got to take that same trip. Man got to learn about the nature of the world as he travel through the world, and man got to learn about the nature of his own self." —Paul Arnett and William Arnett, from Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger

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