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The Measure of Things: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
August 21, 2021 - October 2, 2021Free
Artist Toni Scott’s installation The Measure of Things: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, memorializes Black lives lost unjustly and addresses systemic racism in the United States of America. This testament takes the form of a suspended canoe to hang measuring tapes, from each of which extends a chain and bell. Placed under each bell a charred black bark mound illustrates lives lost. The measurements of inequality are presented in the shape of a canoe and the chains of systemic racism are exposed, as bells ring the truth, and the fallen are memorialized.
The canoe-like shape is a symbolic representation of enslavement and freedom. A homage to the transportation used in the transatlantic slave trade, the aquatic vessel represents the enslavement of Africans and its ongoing legacy and those still bound to a system of inequality. The oppressed are still chained—from chattel slavery where chains were used to punish and constrain to all those who suffer. The elevation of materials with the black bark mounds on the ground symbolizes the Black and Brown people killed in police custody and the collective lives lost to racism, too many to count.
The artwork title and concept are inspired by Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, whose book title was inspired by the third stanza of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “Sympathy.” Dunbar’s poem implies that although the caged bird may never have experienced freedom, he still sings of it because he was created for freedom.
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, —
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
This installation provokes an important discussion and the immediate action needed to address racism in this country.
Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Toni Scott’s art explores her African-American, Native American, and European heritage. Her installation “Bloodlines” was the inaugural exhibition of Discovery at the California African-American Museum in 2009, funded by a special grant from the Annenberg Foundation. In 2015, Scott became an artist-in-residence as part of the Dame Jillian Sackler International Artists Exhibition Program.
Her work has shown at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Peking University, China, Changzhou Museum, Jiangsu Province of China, Cornerstone Winter School, Cape Town, South Africa, and Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Scott received her Bachelor of Science in International Relations at University of Southern Carolina, and a Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara (2018). She currently lives and works in Santa Barbara with a studio on grounds that Native American tribes, the Mikiw and Kutamu lived.