V.L. Cox’s Sculptures Encapsulate the Plights of Past and Present
By Samuel Biggs - Student Review, 2018
Pictured: “Jim” -- Mixed Media 66” x 20” x 20”
The relevant history imbued in V.L. Cox’s pieces remembers, haunts, concerns.
Walking through Cox’s “End Hate” collection is like walking into the Deep South during the 1920s. Hooded figures stare at you from various corners, white-only propaganda imposes over you, and many of the surroundings are damaged—literally and figuratively. Cox incorporates genuine historical objects into many of her works. She believes that many people are prone to forgetting recent events and that farther-away periods of time are even more likely to be lost—and so she uses items of the past as a physical form of memory. She finds these materials from sources such as pawn shops and antique dealers. So when you look into her collection and see a Coca-Cola cooler riddled with bullet holes, or a worn chalkboard from a church in the 30’s, you know that there’s history there.
The images in the gallery all intermesh, alluding to the outdated ideologies of the historic deep south. The picket fences from “Whitewash” are lined with barbed wire and Klansmen—representative of the elitist, gated community. White fingers peeking out through the closed shutters in “Home Of The Brave” represent the distant, judging eye of misunderstanding individuals. Images of church and the bible throughout the collection combined with hard-hitting context of the surrounding images infers its use in connection with segregation, fear, and deeply-rooted oppressive beliefs.
“But The Klan isn’t a Christian organization, and I can prove it to you,” Cox says as she guides me to a stand where one of the hooded robes are displayed. She told me to take a look at its back side, where there were light brown splotches clustered towards the bottom. “That’s blood. Now tell me, does this align with modern Christian values?”
Pictured: “Soiled” – Mixed Media
The robe is a part of her piece, which is titled “Soiled.” It stands next to a Puritan Cleaner stain remover tin, and a large vintage sign with the words displayed: “WHITE RIT (RIGHT) COLOR REMOVER TAKES THE COLOR OUT OF FABRICS – HARMLESSLY” with the last word crossed out. The dynamic between the Klansman robe, the sign, and the canister reminds us of the mindset that was prominent during the most active years of the Klan: their objective was to remove African Americans from their white society—under the guise of honor and self-righteous justifications. Crossing out the sign’s “harmlessly” alludes directly to the bloodied robe, and how the claims of honor in their group was as fickle as their ideology.
Cox’s effect from “Soiled” especially hit home for me. The history of the piece really brought to me the reality of the past—whereas it was harder to really connect to it before. Seeing the robe right in front of me was shocking. We all know that the history is real, but it touches another part of you when you see remnants of it with your own eyes. In this way, Cox’s collection is not only an art gallery, but also a history museum. Some people are so quick to dismiss history, claiming that it’s gone and over, but it’s especially hard to do so when it’s standing right in front of you. If merely gazing at a bloodied robe from yesterday can effect oneself today, then isn’t it fair to claim that the past can have lingering effects in other ways as well? I can only imagine someone raised by a prejudiced family gazing at the thinly-threaded word “Wallis” in the soiled fabric, recognizing it as their last name, and reflecting on the ideology that they grew up with.
Cox touches on this generational passing on of outdated beliefs in another piece, “White Bread,” where an indoctrinated child is dressed in Klansman garb. He stands behind a screen door gazing directly into the viewer’s eyes while the teddy bear in his left hand is facing backwards. Obscuring the entrance in front of him is a door-bar with the text “Colonial is good Bread.” His ominous stare behind the slits of the mask shares the same feeling of hatred as a grown adult. The teddy bear in the child’s hand reinforces the child’s age, and as Cox notes, “the boy’s loss of innocence.” His youthful purity is tarnished. The hood’s message transcends the virtue of young age and its associated morality. The garment’s message remains clear no matter who its wearer is. The message on the bar blocking his exit is indicative of the boy’s entrapment in the Klan ideology. White bread is the only good bread, and all other kids should be blocked off— but the idea itself is the only true divider. It’s an outdated ideology that should’ve never existed to begin with, and Cox wants her audience to know that it’s still something that we are fighting today.
Pictured: “Stop Hate” -- Mixed Media 42” x 70”
One of the main remnants of the racist doctrine of the past is reflected in today’s prison system—which is touched on in the collection with the piece entitled “Jim,” where Jim Crow sits perched upon a jail cell that holds a black man behind its bars. The infamous historical figure literally hangs over the head of the imprisoned man. It acts as a clear reference to the racist penal system that has a choke-hold over our country. According to the census bureau, African Americans make up 13% of the United States’ population, while the NAACP finds that more than one third of the prison population is composed of black people. Cox’s piece acknowledges a root cause of these disproportionate numbers and it elicits a powerful reaction that’s impossible to ignore.
The “End Hate” Collection hits hard in its message about the historical remnants of defective ideologies and how they remain prevalent today and V.L. Cox’s passion for the issue shines in her works. In this time where our nation is incredibly divided in beliefs, artists such as Cox are absolutely essential.
“This still affects us,” she says. “Even to this day. This racism is passed down through generations onto children who grow up and have discriminations against other people just because of their skin color.”