Melvin Edwards, American (1937 - )

Melvin Edwards was raised in Houston, Texas. His artistic talent was recognized at an early age, and he was encouraged to study the works of European old masters at the Museum of Fine Arts. He won a football scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles but rejected a professional athletic career to become an artist. Edwards developed a life-long interest in African art after seeing a Fang sculpture on a teacher's desk one day. "Eye to eye," he wrote, "African art is like a deep conversation with family." His welded sculptures are often inspired by political issues, ranging from civil rights to African-American identity. In 1993 Edwards won the grand prize of the Fuji-Sankei Biennial in Japan, and in 1995 his work was included in the Cairo Biennial.

Melvin Edwards's works in steel often address political issues of historic and/or contemporary concern for the African American community. Edwards describes the Lynch Fragment Series as a "private conversation," which, unlike his public works, is meant to create a "one-on-one" experience between object and viewer. This series, begun in 1963, speaks to the threat of lynching as a powerful controlling tool of a racist society. Like other works in the series, Edwards uses welded steel forms that evoke the shapes of farm implements, weapons, and shackles of bondage to powerfully remind us of the violence and horrors of lynching, which survived as common practice in the country until almost the middle of this century. "I decided that the forms should hang on the wall," Edwards explained, "because hanging was symbolic." Each piece is individually named, and each seeks to invoke both historical memory of this vigilante practice and the malignancy and power of lynching as a constant threat for so long in black Americans' experience.

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