Afro Abe II 2012

U.S. five-dollar bill with an embroidered afro stitched on to Lincoln’s head

Sonya Clark, Afro Abe II, 2012; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Sonya Y.S. Clark

In Afro Abe II, Sonya Clark transformed a U.S. five-dollar bill to reveal connections between money, power, and pride. Clark made her first two Afro Abe artworks in 2007 when then-Senator Barack Obama began his presidential campaign. Over the next five years, she created 42 additional Afro Abe pieces to honor his place as the 44th President of the United States of America. At the same time, the series lauds President Abraham Lincoln as an early civil rights leader. 

Clark says, “I investigate simple objects as cultural interfaces. . . . What is the history of the object? How does it function? Why is it made of a certain material? How did its form evolve? These questions and their answers direct the structure, scale, and material choices in my work.”

Here, her use of currency-as-canvas evokes personal, cultural, and historical associations with money—freedom, self-determination, and property ownership. Further, U.S. currency is made primarily of cotton, a cash crop associated with slavery.

Crowning Lincoln with an embroidered Afro, a symbol of black political rebellion, resistance, and self-affirmation, infuses the bill with new meaning. This juxtaposition is both humorously incongruent and poignant. 

 

National Museum of Women in the Arts