Black Artist Willie Little’s work And Miles to Go Before We Sleep showing at Disjecta in Portland, Oregon, August 7 – September 20, 2020.
And Miles to Go Before We Sleep Artists Statement– Reimagined from my trip home to where I
grew up in NC May, 2019…
I had not been home in 13 years. I was filled with fear and trepidation for many reasons; being a
gay Black man from the rural south was one of the biggest reasons to stay away. I had no words
to say about this work as I wanted my thoughts to reflect how I feel today, and not the original
statement about the walking sticks. As I was 30 miles away from home, the words flowed like a
river; like the Tar River, the place I was baptized at the age of 6.
Words, they can sting, can hurt. This installation is a metaphorical and spiritual journey to
enlightenment. We must take to heal the divides of race and class in America.
Where I grew up Black and white farms stood side by side divided by fence. Things said about
race, on one side of the fence, were equally said on the other: just never together
These majestic African inspired walking sticks could possibly be fences, barriers, African
ceptors to protect, to exalt. They could be emblem of nobility, an instrument of battle or ritual.
They could possibly suggest we all as humans move beyond hatred for one another and embrace
our commonalties. We were all born with the capacity to love, have compassion for one another.
Hate is learned.
These majestic sticks are adorned with cockleburs—prickly seed pods that could represent
African hair in its natural state. Once a racial epithet, our hair is considered a symbol of strength
and resilience. As many of us embrace the texture of our hair, we can say today, as we many
echoed in the 60s and 70s, our hair is beautiful. Blackness is beautiful.
The 4 symbols crown my mystical sticks: The halo (female), horn (male) could represent the
characteristics we as humans all have. The (flame) could light our way on our life journey. The
(diamond)—oh, the riches; for there are many that have little to do with money. My family grew
up poor, but we were rich at the same time; lived off the soil; didn’t want for nothing. We tilled
the soil. The earth in turn gave us a bountiful harvest that made us rich—rich as the soil beneath
our swollen feet.
The inspiration of the title comes from a phrase from Robert Frosts poem, Stopping by Woods on
a Snowy Evening. The speaker says, “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I
sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” The speaker is traveling and needs to cover some
distance before getting back home. – A symbolic safe place of security, love, happiness, nirvana.
We as humans
We All have miles to go before we get back home. And we have miles to go before we sleep.
Maya Angelou said it many years ago, however it is still apropos: “We should strive to make this
country more than it is today.”
* Cockleburs- (Xanthium strumarium). Small, prickly, football- shaped spur like pods considered a weed, are commonly found in fields and pastures in agricultural areas in the US and Asia. In the South, they were
commonly used as an epithet to describe nappy African American hair.
These walking sticks are part of an installation, In Mixed Company, made possible by a 2006
grant from the Pollock Krasner foundation. They have been updated in 2018 and 2019.
The walking sticks have been exhibited at the following venues:
The Levine Museum of the New South 2008
Joie Lassiter Gallery 2008
Rice Polak Gallery, Provincetown, MA 2009
SF MOMA Artist’s Gallery, San Francisco 2010
California African American Museum, LA 2009
African American Culture Complex, San Francisco 2010
CCH Pounder Gallery, Hollywood, CA 2011
Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI 2011
Willie Little is a Black artist and storyteller from North Carolina who currently splits his time between Oakland, CA and Portland Oregon.