A closer look at Martin Payton's installation piece

By Brandi Simmons

One of the newest pieces in the Broken Time exhibition is Martin Payton's untitled installation. Carefully assembled on a bed of museum-safe sand, each individual piece comes together to form the shape of Africa, with names written along the left-hand side by Payton. 

So how is something like this created and how does it get to the museum? Check out the video below to learn the answer.

It's an intriguing mix of objects presented with careful attention to every component, but what does it mean? We'll let Southern University retired art historian Dr. Eloise Johnson explain in this excerpt from her essay "Coming Full Circle," published in the Broken Time catalog.

"It epitomizes the African American tradition of signifying—spitting out verbal and visual “in your face” symbolism or shade equal to that of any modern rapper today. Words have consequences and power. Written on the side of this installation piece are the names of the orishas, the emissaries of Olodumare, or God Almighty in Yoruba culture, that rule over the forces of nature and human activity. This unusual piece suggests an evolution of the artist’s formal techniques and conceptual practices. 

Payton’s sculptures occupy space in a confrontational style; there is always tension between the viewer and the immovable steel pieces. This installation crawls, moves, and spills out on the floor like liquid. It creates a visceral experience—a mélange of mismatched objects strung out on the floor like possessions that have been destroyed in a flood and washed ashore. Perhaps this space conjures up echoes of Hurricane Katrina or Africans during the transatlantic voyage. The shape of the African continent is outlined by a large chain suggestive of slavery. A centerpiece has a pole with an object on top that references the iconic headdress of the Oba, the ruler of the Yoruba tribe in Africa. The divine gaze of a Yoruba king is deadly to his subjects. Therefore, the face of the king is covered during ceremonies by a beaded veil, the iboju, attached to the rim of the crown. This vertical element provides a stabilizing force that brings order to the chaotic scene. Within the boundary of the surrounding chain is an array of various items, including shovels and agricultural machine parts. These items represent the power of African slave labor in shaping the economy of this country, while also symbolizing the reclamation of African Americans’ place in American history."

Pick up a copy of the Broken Time exhibition catalog in the museum store to read Johnson's full essay, as well as essays from LSU MOA curator Courtney Taylor, LSU Professor and Director of the African & African American Studies Program, Dr. Joyce Jackson, and New Orleans poet, editor, and music producer Kalamu ya Salaam.

Stop by to see the installation in person along with the other 28 sculptures in Broken Time now through February 11, 2018.

Brandi Simmons is LSU MOA's communications coordinator.