Kenseth Armstead: True North: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

Kenseth Armstead: True North: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now is presented in conjunction with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, as a 1-54 Special Project. The installation follows three decades of work by the artist, who considers the exploration of African achievement and the legacy of enslaved Africans to be his life’s work. Working across installation, video, photography and sculpture, he has used conceptual art as a framework for addressing unsung heroes in American culture and public dialogue. Armstead will be a Pioneer Works artist-in-residence in Fall 2023.

Artist Statement

History: One hundred million Africans were abducted over the four hundred years of the triangular Transatlantic Slave Trade. Less than thirty million survived the journey. True North: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now celebrates the one hundred thousand Africans who escaped via the Underground Railroad.

Science Non-Fiction: Traveling by rail in the nineteenth century was an adventure in a time machine. Train routes took hours instead of days, and days instead of weeks, for travel that was difficult, at best, by foot, horse or carriage. The futuristic, slick steel roads made the seemingly impossible commonplace. The Underground Railroad instilled confidence in the route to freedom in the North.

Form: This series presents thirty-four sculptures—one for each state during the existence of the Underground Railroad. These waxed wood and steel sculptures are marked by more than one hundred thousand hot-comb burns—one for each of the enslaved Africans self-liberated by the Underground Railroad.

Flow: True North: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now allows viewers to engage the sculptures in a structured choreography on the topic of freedom. Metaphorically and literally, viewers will be finding marks and imagining their way into the scale of hard-won freedom. True North: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now explores the Black body being carried, concealed, stacked and finally, beautifully transformed, by more freedom.

About the Artist

Kenseth Armstead has created provocative conceptual art for three decades. Historic exhibitions that feature his work include: Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art; It’s Happening! Celebrating 50 Years of Public Art in NYC Parks in Central Park, NY, NY, presented by NYC Parks, Art in the Parks; Race in Digital Space at the MIT List Visual Arts Center; Veni Vidi Video at the Studio Museum in Harlem (their first video exhibition in 2003); Open House: Working in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum; and Modern Heroics, 75 years of African American Expressionism at the Newark Museum.