Wagging Tongue Rainbow Devil: study for Totem / Shame Pole Figureheads, 2011. Totem figurehead constructed from plaster, tinfoil, feathers, paint, mixed media
Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, NY
Haley Hughes’ three sculptures Thunder Bird Anal Flag, Anger Bear Gold Machine, and Wagging Tongue Rainbow Devil are studies for totem/shame pole figureheads that will be mounted to boats later this summer as part of the Sea Worthy series of public excursions. Hughes’s figurehead totem poles use historic and contemporary symbolic imagery in order to create a new myth for our current tribe that is now, ostensibly, the world. Historically, a ship’s figurehead is a woman perched on the prow, representing the captain’s wife - her presence requires him to go down with his ship if the situation arises. Shame poles were erected by various tribes throughout North America as a way of telling the story of one clan or individual’s debt to another. These poles would sit on the land of the tribe to which the debt was owed until it was paid. Similarly, totem poles were erected to tell stories, but instead of declaring a debt, they conveyed a family’s history or an ancient myth.