‘I Was Building This Suit of Armor’: Watch Nick Cave Sew His ‘Soundsuits’ for Protection Against Injustice in the World

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the
Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 8 episode, "Chicago," 2016. © Art21, Inc. 2016.

A new overhaul of the 42nd Street subway station in New York City is complete, and in addition to a new accessible elevator, it features two mosaics by Nick Cave—the artist’s largest permanent public work to date.

They are also the largest mosaics in the subway system, taking up 4,600 square feet. They depict Cave’s signature “Soundsuits,” wearable sculptures of bright colors and a potpourri of materials including fur, feathers, sequins, bells, and buttons. Cave made his first Soundsuit in 1992 following the police beating of Rodney King and the L.A. riots, and most recently Cave made Soundsuit 9:29 in response to George Floyd’s murder.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 in 2016, part of the flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Cave reflected on the origins of the soundsuits. The artist describes sitting in the park one day and thinking about Rodney King and the riots and asking himself, “What does it feel like to be discarded, dismissed, profiled?”

Ultimately, Cave realized, “I was building this suit of armor, something that I could shield myself from the world and society,” with race, gender, and any other identifiable traits masked by the surreal, exotic suit. 

Cave describes the suits as being “broken up into two bodies of work”—the sculpture itself, a “static work that you see in the museums,” and a performance; when the Soundsuits are activated, they making noise with even the slightest movement.

In the mosaics at the 42nd Street subway station, the soundsuits are captured mid-dance, with radically colored hair flying and each suit surrounded by radiating rings of color that add to the dynamism of the images.

The new Times Square-42nd Street entrance at One Times Square on Monday, May 16, 2022. Marc A. Hermann / MTA.

The mosaics are comprised of three discrete works, and together the trilogy is titled Each One, Every One, Equal All. It “connects riders with the energy of Times Square, while honoring the incredible diversity found throughout New York City,” said Sandra Bloodworth, the director of the MTA Arts and Design program. “The work carries a powerful message of equality and representation. Its name makes clear that the artwork, and the celebration, is meant for each and every one of us.”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. Nick Cave’s new mosaics are now on view at the revamped 42nd Street station. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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