Collection Artwork
Fred Wilson (born The Bronx, New York, 1954)
Pharaoh Fetish
plaster, paint, leather, cotton, wood, glass, amethyst, copper alloy
figure size: 36 1/2 x 15 x 16 3/4 in.
pedestal size: 32 1/8 x 13 x 18 1/2 in.
installed size: 68 1/2 x 15 x 18 1/2 in.
Gift of Peter Norton

Installation views

Object Label

Fred Wilson uses objects to encourage the reconsideration of social and historical symbols and narratives by reframing their conventional interpretations. Here the artist emphasizes the Western “fetish” for Egyptian artifacts by placing a plaster pharaoh, a common souvenir for tourists traveling Egypt, on a pedestal. The repeated use of ankhs—an ancient Egyptian symbol of life—and images of Egyptian queen Nefertiti, allude to the power of Egypt. Meanwhile, leather cords reference enslaved peoples and beaded necklaces and Pan-African colors symbolize the American Black Power movement of the 1970s. What makes an object a tourist commodity and what defines it as “authentic”? Which, if any of these objects, represent African identity, and who is to decide?

In Wilson’s sculpture, African and black diasporic identities merge. But what of the many other African countries besides Egypt? What does Egypt offer or symbolize that has created such a fetish for it, both in Western conceptions of Africa and in African identities?

From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

What makes an object a tourist commodity and what defines it as “authentic”?‘ This is a question of power and how a story is told and remembered, if one is told or remembered at all. This sculpture of a pharaoh having its mouth covered by symbols of the Black Power movement showcases how material items are constantly taken out of context, contributing to black culture lacking historical reasoning and silencing communities when agency is lost. Fetish is born from “ouuu that’s really cool.” The issue with “cool” is that it is “othering” and undermines the normalcy of black history, therefore idolizing items that are not understood.
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