Born Detroit, MI, 1986/ Lives in Detroit, MI
It starts with a pig. A monolithic, mutilated mural of a pig, its intestines seeping out and wrapping around its neck. Cartoonish innards of the pig’s exposed underbelly appear referential to a confederate flag. A navy X shape with hearts instead of stars lay atop waves of red and white. Its insides are likened to a flaccid flag blowing in the wind. Drops of blood seep from its underbelly. The pig appears to be cut from its neck to the pelvic area of its hind legs.
We know this pig. Its fate is grotesque, unlike our fictitious favorites, Ms. Piggy, Wilbur, Piglet, or Babe. There is no empathy or love for this pig, contrary to the white hearts outlined in orange paint that float around it. The viewer can imagine Pig’s last labored breaths as it transitions into death.
What are Pig’s last thoughts as its shackled body writhes and its bulging eyes stare off into the distance, its body in similar gestures to lynched Black people throughout history? Does Pig see an angel? Does Pig see Jesus? Or perhaps Pig sees the godlike jumpman silhouette of Michael Jordan. Can Pig find spiritual relief in these beings, or see the tools of its oppression?
Do Mary and baby Jesus know the unrest they cause Pig? They look picturesque together in Untitled (2021). Mary peers down at Baby Jesus as she cradles him amidst an ethereal glow. In this sculptural depiction of Mary and Jesus, they are backed by a texturized golden frame and surrounded by pairs of dancing cherubs above and on each side of them.
As Pig’s eyes dart around, they fall upon another piece. Two cherubs in blackface sit upon a pint of Hennessy, surrounded by scattered cubic zirconia and thick shards of gold-leafed, green-tinted glass on their backs. Who are these flodgin’ angelic babies? Why are they taught at such a young age that Blackness is a costume to be appropriated?
So why do these pieces cause Pig pain? Their faces being covered in a tar-black tone with large red lips is an act of violence. Their love and their play reflect and perpetuate violence. There are no bystanders, or good intentions masquerading in blackface. Their porcelain white complacency has implications and repercussions for Pig and adds salt to his gaping wound. These black-faced, biblical figures are not for him, and they never were.
This pig and its narrative is the work of multidisciplinary artist Tony Rave. Rave utilizes visual language and culture to talk about his experience as a Black person. His work incorporates found objects like bottles of Hennessy, Jordan sneakers, and Miracle Whip. His studio practice is a cathartic act to release what he describes as rage. He combines and reclaims historical and biblical imagery, and adds contemporary connotations to the work. In addition to this reclaiming, Rave redeems ideologies of rage.
To feel true rage, your body acts instinctually, the conscious brain shutting off and the body running on adrenaline. True rage could be described as animalistic and illogical. Rave’s work does not reflect this sentiment. His work is calculated, intentional, potentially antagonizing, and well-informed. Working in this manner, Rave is able to activate the audience. His work lives in the dual realm of affect and the abject, causing the viewer to feel drawn to his work without necessarily having the language to express why, or having a visceral response and wanting to turn away.
To return to Pig, I hope it’s able to close its eyes and find rest as it transitions. I want it to know that I think it was made with love. It takes love to put so much care into this unforgiving labor of creating art about one’s experience as a Black person. It takes love to make art that tells a narrative of rage.
Chelsea A. Flowers, December 2022