Michael Richards: Are You Down? is the first museum retrospective of Michael Richards’ artwork, exhibiting both his extensive sculpture and drawing practice. Of Jamaican and Costa Rican lineage, Michael Richards was born in Brooklyn in 1963, raised in Kingston, and came of age between post-independence Jamaica and post-civil rights era America. Richards used the language of metaphor to investigate racial inequity and the tension between assimilation and exclusion in his art. Flight and aviation were central themes for Richards as an exploration of freedom and escape, ascendance and descent. His artwork gestures towards both repression and reprieve from social injustices, and the simultaneous possibilities of uplift and downfall, often in the context of the historic and ongoing oppression of Black people.
September 11, 2021 marks twenty years since Michael Richards’ passing. In light of the devastating circumstances that took Richards’ life, the airplanes and pilot imagery in his work take on an added prescience. Significant points of reference for Richards include the Tuskegee Airmen—the first African American pilots in United States military history—and the complexity of their triumphs in the face of segregation. Other important influences include cultural, religious, and ritual stories from African, African American, Jamaican, and Judeo-Christian traditions, as well as Greek mythology. Centering his own experience, Richards used his body to cast the figures for his sculptures, which often appear as pilots, saints, or both.
from the exhibition text
Michael Richards: Are You Down? is on view at MOCA North Miami through October 10, 2021.