AFTERBURN—Willie Cole: Selected Works, 1997-2004

Chewa 600, 1997, bamboo, wood, jute, rope, and straw, 101.5 x 154.9 x 76 cm., collections of Eileen Harris-Norton and Peter Norton, Santa Monica Photo courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

Through January 7, 2006

Contemporary artist Willie Cole, (b. 1955), transforms ordinary domestic objects such as bicycle parts, irons and lawn jockeys into powerful works of art, embedded with references to the African-American experience and inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture. AFTERBURN, a traveling exhibition of Cole's work organized by the University of Wyoming Art Museum, features 15 examples of his sculptures, scorched canvases and iris prints. Cole's sculpture, Kanaga Field Iron, acquired by the Museum in 1998, will be included in the concurrent exhibition, Frontiers.

The steam iron is the single most important icon in Cole's visual vocabulary. Its symbolic reach extends from the domestic role of women of color to the Yoruba god of iron and war, Ogun. The imprint of the iron point up references a face or African mask; point down, it takes on the form of a shield. By scorching canvases with the iron, Cole creates patterns reminiscent of Adinkra cloth found in Ghana.

Born in New Jersey, Willie Cole attended Boston University School of Fine Arts and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

A catalogue for this exhibition is available in The Museum Shop.

Learn more about this exhibition in the Gallery Guide.

AFTERBURN—Willie Cole: Selected Works, 1997-2004 has been organized by the University of Wyoming Art Museum and funded in part by Jennifer McSweeney and Peter Reuss, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the Norton Family Foundation, the National Advisory Board of the University of Wyoming Art Museum, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Worcester Art Museum presentation is supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund and is funded in part by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. Additional support provided by Worcester Magazine.


Related Events

Art History Class: African Art and Its Worldwide Influences
Tuesdays, October 25-November 29, 1-3PM
Explore the works of African diaspora artists in the Worcester Art Museum's collection, including Willie Cole, Faith Ringgold, Yinka Shonibare, Archibald Motley, and Jacob Lawrence, among others. Members $95; nonmembers $115. Advance registration is required. Call 508.799.4406 x3129 or visit

Willie Cole at the African Cultural Center
Saturday, November 12, 2PM
Join Willie Cole for a discussion of the cultural influences found in his work as he speaks amid the African art on display at the Worcester African Cultural Center, 33 Canterbury Street. Preview his working methods and ideas prior to the Saturday evening opening for Frontiers and AFTERBURN at the Worcester Art Museum. Free with suggested donation to the WACC, an organization whose mission is to promote African culture and history via artistic, educational, and social activities and events, for individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Exhibition Opening Reception
Saturday, November 12, 2005, 7-10PM
Celebrate the openings of two exhibitions of contemporary art, Frontiers and AFTERBURN: Willie Cole with the sounds of Solomon Murungo, cocktails, and eclectic sweets and savories. $10 members, $20 nonmembers. RSVP by November 8 to 508.799.4406, x3105 or by e-mailing

Artist Talk: Willie Cole
Sunday, November 13, 2PM
Willie Cole's work has been described as “playful” and “ironic,” a double-entendre of sorts. Join the artist at the Museum for a viewing of his two- and three-dimensional art and a discussion of his artistic process. Free with Museum admission. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Family Day: Contemporary Connections
Sunday, November 20, 2005, 1-4:30PM
Discover the exciting world of contemporary art in this fresh and fun adventure for all ages. Art-making activities, performances, scavenger hunts, and much more. Free with Museum admission, and always free for ages 17 & under. Family Day is sponsored by Bank of America.

Talks About Art: Willie Cole
Sunday, December 4, 2PM
Join African art historian Jean Borgatti and Worcester African Cultural Center Director Emil Iguanagu for a talk about their responses to Willie Cole's work. Dr. Borgatti will present an introductory talk on African art, followed by a discussion with Dr. Borgatti and Mr. Iguanagu in the exhibition AFTERBURN—Willie Cole: Selected Works, 1997-2004. Free with Museum admission.

Select Images from the Exhibition