Four Hundred Years of Free Labor

Joe Minter American

Not on view

Four Hundred Years of Free Labor is composed of old rusted metal tools—shovels, pitchforks, pickax heads, and a hoe—held together by welded pipes and bound by chains. Shown upright, the tools collectively assume a human presence. They confront the viewer like ghosts of their former users, evoking multiple and different groups of African Americans subjected to forced labor over time, from enslaved people harvesting cotton before the Civil War to chain gangs in the twentieth century. Minter’s assembled tools stand as iconic testaments to the lives of the anonymous laborers who once wielded them. Sculptures like this one can still be found on the artist’s Birmingham property, which over the course of thirty years he has turned into an ever-evolving art environment titled The African Village in America.

Four Hundred Years of Free Labor, Joe Minter (American, born Birmingham, Alabama, 1943), Welded found metal

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Photo: Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios