Thou Shall Not

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Child's scooter, wood, wire, paint
50 x 60 x 16 inches
Collection of
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

A clear emblem of the pharmacopeic impulse in black aesthetics is Lonnie Holley's artwork created from a child's homemade scooter, a twisted specimen with a stake driven through it. Suggesting phallic penetration, the stake bears in hand-painted black letters an arresting command: "Thou Shall Not." But that prohibition can also be read as prescription or cure, and furthermore as incantation or spell. Holley's work belongs to a pharmacopeic tradition and can be seen as a kind of healing charm or, to use the black folk vernacular, a good "mojo" (compare "white magic"). The work's obvious moral concern, and its socially progressive message, can also be understood as a benign conjurational intention: curing culture. The cure consists in first exposing and then censuring a diseased feature of our nation's social reality. This is a reality in which incest and other forms of child abuse are pernicious and pervasive. But in order to transform that reality the artist does more than prohibit or prescribe. Holley's art reflects both healing and harming aspects that both cure and curse.