Birmingham artist William Williams Jr., the owner of Studio 2500, has a sculpture on display in Chicago. Chicago Sculpture International selected Williams’ carbon steel sculpture “Trinity” as part of Sculpture in the Parks, its exhibit in collaboration with the Chicago Park District.
In October, Williams was one of 16 national and international artists selected to have work displayed in the city’s public parks. His sculpture is part of a rotating exhibit of approximately 20 sculptures in 20 different parks that are on view for one year. Most of the sculptures in the program are placed in front of the city’s fieldhouses, structures that range from modern athletic centers to ornate historic buildings. Often designated as cultural centers in the city, many of the fieldhouses are architecturally significant and have landmark status.
In order to be selected for the Sculpture in the Parks program, which started in 2014, qualifying sculptures must be large-scale, abstract, metal and suitable for outdoors.
“Trinity” is one of four sculptures in Williams’ series titled “H.E.R.E.” An acronym for humanity, empowered, relevant and eternal, Williams says “H.E.R.E” is about the struggles and triumphs of black women in America.
“So I did those sculptures in honor of the empowered beings that black women are,” said Williams.
The 10-foot-tall sculpture is comprised of three faces, each one contorted in a different direction.
“Symbolically they come together to support each other,” Williams explained.
The bends and coils of “Trinity” pay homage to the hairstyles of black women, from ancient Africa to contemporary times. The inspiration for the sculpture, Williams said, started when he watched his mother and sister transition from chemically straightening their hair with relaxers to wearing their hair in its natural texture.
“That intrigued me a lot,” said Williams. “[Not just] how black women think about their identity and associate it with their hair, but just their identity overall as human beings. Trying to reclaim a part of themselves that has been shunned and stereotyped. And labeled as ugly and as unimportant.”
Throughout history, laws and societal codes have aggressively policed black women’s hair. During the 1700s, the Tignon Laws of Louisiana forced black women to cover their hair in public. Fast forward to this century, and it’s only recently that more states have started proposing legislation to explicitly ban race-based hair discrimination.
With “Trinity,” Williams sought to explore black women’s contemporary reclamation of their natural hair texture. In addition to the sculptures, Williams interviewed 20 black women about their personal connections to their hair and created a series of 20 accompanying portraits, framing each drawing in a shadow box.
“Their hair is kind of like their crown,” said Williams. “But it’s been made through history to be a [negative] symbol of inferiority and abnormality.”
Now it its fourth year, Studio 2500 fine art gallery opened in July 2016 with the mission to promote visual art within a diverse and inclusive culture. Williams graduated in 2018 from Birmingham Southern College with a bachelor’s degree in art with a specialty in sculpture.