Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits”


By art21. Artist Nick Cave discusses the experiences that force him to confront his identity as a black man—including being racially profiled by police—and how they fuel his impulse to create. Cave explains that in these moments he gets quiet and avoids lashing out in rage. “And if I do, lashing out for me is creating this,” he says in reference to his intricately constructed Soundsuits. “The Soundsuits hide gender, race, class and they force you to look at the work without judgment.” The exhibition “Here Hear,” which included a large-scale community performance, was installed at Detroit’s Cranbrook Art Museum in 2015. The museum is associated with the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where Nick Cave attended graduate school in the 1980s and was the only minority student at the time. Nick Cave creates “Soundsuits”—surreally majestic objects blending fashion and sculpture—that originated as metaphorical suits of armor in response to the Rodney King beatings and have evolved into vehicles for empowerment. Fully concealing the body, the “Soundsuits” serve as an alien second skin that obscures race, gender, and class, allowing viewers to look without bias towards the wearer’s identity. Cave regularly performs in the sculptures himself, dancing either before the public or for the camera, activating their full potential as costume, musical instrument, and living icon. The artist also works with choreographers, dancers, and amateur performers to produce lavish community celebrations in untraditional venues for art. Cave’s sculptures also include non-figurative assemblages, intricate accumulations of found objects that project out from the wall, and installations enveloping entire rooms.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits”," in Smarthistory, January 14, 2021, accessed March 6, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/nick-caves-soundsuits/.