Ebola: Charles Smith and Social Activism

The Folk Art collections of the Anacostia Community Museum frequently relate to personal responses to global events. One can read awareness and activism in the museum’s collections made by artists such as Leslie Payne, Dereck Wilson and Mr. Imagination. Charles Smith, however, possibly rises above in his intimate portrayal of fellow activists and his figural representation of social and community afflictions around the world.

Charles Smith, Ebola, 2001. Kohler Foundation Collection, Anacostia Community Museum. 2004.0011.0011

Smith’s 2001 sculpture, Ebolacaptures his concern about the disease and its effects on his (and our) contemporaries in West Africa. Dr. Charles Smith (Doctor of Life) believes in the Sankofa proverb, “you can’t go forward until you look back.” Thus, many of his sculptures are janus-faced and can address the future and the past at once. This cement figure is painted brown on the front face, red on the raised lettering spelling “EBOLA” cascading down the front of the figure, and white on the remaining body areas.

This work sought to bring awareness to this deadly disease, long before this current, closely (and loudly) watched outbreak. Smith’s use of found materials and public presentation makes the works and the addressed concerns and themes accessible to the community he hoped to inspire.

 

See more of the Kohler Foundation Collection of the sculptures of Charles Smith at the SI Collections Search Center.