Look More, Label Less

Throughout the blogging process, I have paid considerable attention to the four horsemen that pop up again and again throughout the body of Steve Prince’s work. When discussing the horsemen in my blog posts, I almost always mentioned their shoes, which are adorned with studs and spikes, wherein the spikes vary in appearance and resemble things like barbed wire, grisly canines, and other such objects that bear traditionally negative connotations.

The presence of these shoes in a work of Prince’s often impacted my interpretation of the piece. For example, in Prince’s “Dirge,” the spiked appearance of the horsemen’s shoes encouraged me to view the horsemen as agents of destruction, as is discussed in my blog post, “Those Who Straddle the Line.”Additionally, the horsemen’s massive, spiked shoes, seen in Prince’s “Second Line I-IV,” acted as elements with which I could juxtapose the horsemen’s dainty posture and accessories. This juxtaposition would become the launchpad for my thought process and ultimate thesis in my blog post, “The Protecting Power of Destruction.”

In my posts, I often viewed the shoes of the horsemen as masculine, foreboding, and as capable of inflicting great destruction. However, I interpreted other aspects of the horsemen, such as their posture, their actions, their accessories, to signify that the horsemen are capable of preserving and protecting. While I was able to recognize and incorporate the duality of the horsemen, I nevertheless labeled their shoes as indicators of the horsemen’s roles as harbingers of devastation. A semester’s worth of thinking and further investigation into Prince’s “Katrina Suite” caused me to reconsider this judgment.

Ultimately, what challenged my perception of the horsemen’s shoes as vehicles and signifiers of the horsemen’s status as destructive beings was another set of Prince’s works that reside within his “Katrina Suite.” These works, entitled “Second Line Shoes 1-4,” depict the very same shoes of the horsemen; however, the shoes are depicted in an entirely different medium and in an entirely different way. Indeed, the shoes in “Second Line Shoes 1-4” are constructed not through linocut, charcoal, or even on paper, but through the medium of sculpture. Additionally, while Prince is known for his extensive use of monochromatic color schemes in his work, the sculpted shoes feature extremely pigmented colors of pink, red, green, orange, yellow, and blue.

When I interact with Prince’s “Second Line Shoes  1-4,” I cannot help but form a completely different perception of the horsemen’s shoes, the very shoes I once thought of as entities with which the protective aspects of the horsemen could be juxtaposed. However, when I formed this initial judgment, I did not yet have the whole story, and even now, upon engaging with “Second Line Shoes,” I still don’t. Indeed, I will never be able to completely understand the meaning Prince has put into the creation of his horsemen, as I do not have the ability to get inside the artist’s head and access his inner thoughts. Nevertheless, I am lucky enough to have been privy to witness Prince’s process and hear some of the meaning and motivation behind many of his artistic decisions.

Returning to the idea of noticing more and labeling less, Prince’s “Second Line Shoes,” and its unique use of color and medium, has caused me to view the horsemen, not only as harbingers of destruction and not only as protectors from said destruction but also as creators and productive, vivacious beings, as well. This interpretation is a product of the manner in which I view Prince’s sculpture, particularly, the “spikes” which I have grown accustomed to seeing upon each of the horsemen’s shoes. Instead of seeing spikes, I now see what seem to be crayons or pencils, veritable vehicles of creative expression with productive powers. With this new interpretation, my perception of the horsemen is virtually without labels, as, for me, they have come to simultaneously represent elements of destruction, protection, and creation.

Of course, the horsemen themselves also elude labeling through their dual appearance as horses and as men. Equal parts horse and man, it would be impossible to categorize Prince’s horsemen as either or, just as it is impossible to draw definitive lines between the horsemen’s roles as destroyers, preservers, or creators.

Along these same lines, the Baby Doll maskers, who are invoked through the horsemen’s posture in “Second Line,” accomplish a similar feat. The Baby Dolls, in their costuming, walk, dance, and overall comportment exude a myriad of impressions and attitudes. Indeed, they appear at once innocent and provocative, sweet and vulgar, feminine and masculine. Their dichotomous presentation allows them to evade categorization and thereby affords them a great deal of agency, as the Baby Dolls can utilize this lack of categorization to free themselves from the restrictions of their socio-economic environments.

Furthermore, the Baby Dolls play many roles in New Orleans, serving as cultural vanguards of the city itself but also as defenders of their own power within a society that constantly denies them agency. By preemptively labeling the Baby Dolls as either demure followers of traditional expectations for women or as assertive agents devoted to dismantling the patriarchy that impresses the aforementioned expectations, one would be doing the Baby Doll’s a tremendous disservice. Indeed, by categorizing the Baby Dolls as either or, instead of recognizing the legitimacy of their lived dichotomy, one would be failing to afford and appreciate the power latent within the binary expressed by the Baby Dolls.

The seemingly opposite and contrasting depictions of the horsemen’s shoes by Prince and the dichotomous appearance and attitudes of the Baby Dolls demonstrate the danger present in the act of labeling and forming incomplete judgments regarding another entity or individual’s character, motivation, or purpose. Overall, Prince’s art and the Baby Doll masking tradition, remind their audiences to, in the words of Steve Prince, look more and name less. Such a practice can prevent the injustices that arise from the act of labeling an individual or entity without truly understanding them, an inevitable consequence of humanity’s shared inability to get inside another person’s mind.

Thus, one must attempt to refrain from labeling and instead opt to exercise as much empathy as one can muster in order to understand others and the dichotomous, multifaceted nature latent within each and every individual.


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