Red and White Head
Nicholas F. Callaway

Year: 2014
Medium: Hand-sewn canvas
Dimensions: 40 x 50 x 22 cm · 15 x 20 x 9 in

This piece initially formed part of a broader anthropological research project called “The Liberal Arts.” What began as the creation of an imaginary civilization, eventually evolved into a means of processing, on a non-rational basis, many of the concepts and images absorbed during the course of the artist’s studies of linguistics and religion at a small liberal arts college in the United States. Understood within this context, ‘Red and White Head’ was intended to be part of a series of fictional oligarchs, whose different shapes and colours would function as indicators of power and rank.

The result is visually reminiscent of both the modern-day resuscitation manikin, in its uncanny oversimplification of the human form, and the triumphal busts of Ancient Rome, which effectively combined the symbolic attributes of portraiture and monumental art to validate and strengthen military success and political influence in the public arena. Callaway is playfully mocking or simulating typified semiotic structures of power and authority, drawing our attention towards how meaning is conveyed through consensual aesthetic choices.