On Friday morning, America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) unveiled a sculpture by Sanford Biggers inside its new home on the corner of North and Vel R. Phillips Avenues.
"BAM (Seated Warrior)" is yet another permanent addition to the city that first appeared as part of the annual Sculpture Milwaukee public art event.
The artwork – and an accompanying $1.12 million in funding – is a gift from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and anonymous donors.
The funding gift for the museum comes in the form of a $1 million grant from the Foundation on behalf of an anonymous donor, and a three-year, $120,000 grant from GMF’s responsive grantmaking program, and will, in the words of a statement issued this week, "contribute to the ongoing development and support of ABHM as it builds staff capacity and programming."
According to museum board chair Dr. Ralph Hollman, $750,000 of the $1 million gift will be used to create an endowment.
"This is going to be the foundation for the long-term sustainability of the museum," Hollman said.
Biggers’ work was part of the 2018 Sculpture Milwaukee exhibit and spent that summer in front of the Milwaukee Club, 500 E. Wisconsin Ave.
The Los Angeles-born Biggers lives in New York. He said Friday that he's happy the work will be on display at ABHM.
"It's like she's coming home," said Biggers at the unveiling.
According to Sculpture Milwaukee, "for ‘BAM (Seated Warrior),’ (Biggers) cast a marked and mutilated African ‘power’ figure in bronze, expanding its size to both hide and exaggerate the violence done to the original."
Most of the figures in the series, Biggers said, "represent black people killed by the police," but not the one that's remaining in Milwaukee.
"She is the matron saint of all these figures" in the series, which Biggers says, "is a controversial one."
"Sanford Biggers is one of the most important artists of his generation, who challenges the cultural tropes of how Western society sees African art and objects," said Marilu Knode, director of exhibitions and programs for Sculpture Milwaukee, in a statement.
"By using a traditional female African ‘power’ figure as a metaphor for contemporary violence against black Americans, Biggers ‘hacks’ into art history as well as current social and political norms that bind how we live together."
"Sculpture Milwaukee and America’s Black Holocaust Museum are both part of the cultural fabric of Milwaukee, inviting community members to constantly reexamine their environment," added Brian Schupper, executive director, Sculpture Milwaukee.
"We are thrilled to see this intersection manifested with a new permanent home for BAM (Seated Warrior) at ABHM."
Other former Sculpture Milwaukee works that are now permanent fixtures on the city’s landscape include Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture at Milwaukee Art Museum and Radcliffe Bailey’s "Pensive," which will be installed in the plaza of the new BMO Tower at 780 N. Water St., among others.
Founded by the late Dr. James Cameron, America’s Black Holocaust Museum was created to share the untold and under-told stories of African-American history. The museum closed in 2008, but launched a virtual version four years later.
Cameron died in 2006 at the age of 92.
The museum's new facility is part of the Griot Development that also includes newly constructed residential units on the site of the former museum building as well as more apartments located in the renovated historic Garfield Avenue School next door.
"The reemergence of the museum is critical for a time such as this, and I am honored and humbled to continue the work and the legacy of our founder, Dr. James Cameron," said Dr. Robert (Bert) Davis, president and CEO of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.
Davis said that the museum's plan is to reopen in time for the Democratic National Convention here in July.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.