My year-long internship at the Brooklyn Museum–and exposure to Sanford Biggers’ Blossom–provided me with the experience of not only researching the piece, but also teaching its physical and symbolic manifestation of materials and emotion tied through historical tragedy. Because of my past experience with this artwork, I was slightly disappointed in myself once I realized I had failed to make the connection between Blossom and our class earlier–but the connection is striking.
Created by Sanford Biggers in 2007, Blossom is an artwork that combines a tree with a piano, which seems to have collided with the tree, resulting in its distorted placement. The image of a tree and a piano recklessly fused together already begins to create a striking symbol of life and its beauty or hardship. This is further heightened by the way the piano–which is attached to a MIDI system–plays “Strange Fruit.” While the song played is Biggers’ arrangement, its meaning remains; “Strange Fruit” was popularized in the 30s and written as a protest towards lynching. Blossom itself is influenced by the events that took place at a high school in 2006, in which nooses were hung from a tree on school grounds.
Given the inspiration behind the artwork and the elements it incorporates–the bodhi tree, piano, and song–the juxtaposition created by these elements serves to exemplify a powerful aspect of how historical tragedy and trauma is dealt with. To clarify, Biggers created a bodhi tree, which is the tree that Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment. Not only is a tree symbolic of life and healing, but Biggers chose to create a bodhi tree, which represents enlightenment. The pairing of this tree with a broken piano that plays the notes of a protest song hints at a hopeful future, while still acknowledging past suffering and pain.
I feel like this analysis reflects the present conditions we’ve been discussing in class. The rise of movements that challenge the status quo coupled with events and people that try to stifle these movements reflects pain and suffering, but also hope and healing. Now, we’re at a time in history where we can look back on the past and present and acknowledge trauma, while still hopefully looking towards a future.