(American, born 1946)
Tongue-Cut Sparrows, 1996
charcoal on paper, 52 x 71 1/2 inches
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Tongue-Cut Sparrows is an extensive project by James Drake that began with a chance meeting on the streets of El Paso and has resulted in dramatic video installations, prints, and charcoal drawings such as this. All of these works are based on the mysterious sign language invented by a group of women to communicate at a distance with their jailed loved ones. The title of the series comes from a traditional Japanese tale about a bird whose tongue was cut off as punishment. With poetic restraint, Drake focuses our attention on the expressive hands and in some instances, on the tear streaked faces of the women. The gesture in this drawing appears to mimic a bird in flight, a particularly symbolic image for someone imprisoned.
Each day women and men congregate on the streets below the El Paso county jail in an effort to communicate with their friends and loved ones incarcerated in the jail. They do not speak with words but have invented a simple and effective sign language using their arms and hands… (Tongue-Cut Sparrows) explores that phenomenon and the desperate need to communicate.
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