Permanent Galleries

Latent Emissions, 1998

Chakaia Booker
Latent Emissions, 1998
American, born 1953
rubber tires and wood
72 x 45 x 32 inches (192.88 x 114.3 x 81.28 cm)
Acquired with funds provided by the Walter R. Beardsley Endowment for Modern and Contemporary Art

African American artist Chakaia Booker crafts evocative sculptures from salvaged rubber––discarded tires, inner tubes, and hoses. In this example, Booker cut tires into elongated shapes like curving steel scythes or spear points, some sliced cleanly, others jagged and frayed. From certain angles, Latent Emissions looks like an erect animal, raised on its haunches and prickling with stiffened quills.

The sculpture resembles traditional African works known as “power figures,” which are created by carving a wooden figure then ritually adding materials such as shells, beads, or nails to empower the sculpture. One particular type, called “nail fetishes” by Europeans and “Nkisi Nkonda” by their Congo makers, feature dog and human forms into which many nails are partially driven. The nailing process symbolizes the activation of the figures by metaphorically attaching the words of divorce settlements, criminal judgments, and other agreements. Guardians of the contracts, these sculptures stand with raised heads and bristling quill-like nails, prepared to attack anyone who dares break the terms.

Booker’s sculpture is similarly poised for assault, ready to discharge the concealed properties suggested by its title. Literally, it emits the odor of rubber, a material associated with plantations, slavery, and colonialism. Figuratively, it releases African traditions into our world.