Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys will permanently house a Brooklyn-based sculpture artist’s 12-foot sculpture in the garden of their New Jersey home, acquired through an art collective founded by Beatz called The Dean Collection.
“Take Me With You,” which features a large female head with African features seemingly coming out of water, is a commentary on the water crisis plaguing certain parts of the world, especially Flint, Michigan, artist Tanda Francis said in a phone interview.
“I put it out there because it is something that I don’t see, something that is missing,” she said, adding that it was molded for its original home, the Socrates Sculpture Park, where the East River flowed adjacent to her installation. “That is my own mission to make it have that presence and that voice.”
As a 2017 fellow at the Long Island City park, Francis was chosen from 300 applicants, along with 14 other artists participating in the Socrates Annual, a yearly display of contemporary sculpture artists.
“Tanda’s proposal immediately stood out for its ambitious scale,” Jess Wilcox, director of exhibitions at the sculpture park, said in a phone interview. “The park was started in the ’80s right along the East River, which has been historically polluted and only getting slightly better now. [Francis’ sculpture] resonated with the optimistic tone of revitalization that is part of the park, that is the park’s DNA,” Wilcox added.
Francis spent the summer of 2017 slowly building the 10.5 x 12 x 12-foot sculpture out of concrete, steel and water in the site’s open-air studio, come rain or heat wave. The installation enjoyed an approximately six-month stint at the park, where Francis said she saw an overwhelmingly positive response to the piece.
The water, out of which the seemingly-parched head emerges, acted as a barrier between the sculpture and the audience, which restricted visitors from climbing on the “monumental” work, she said. Instead, she observed them engaging with the sculpture by throwing rocks and sticks in the water, and trying to reach over the water to kiss it. She also noted people connecting with the large human face, which is positioned to look up to the sky with lips slightly parted.
The process of creating the piece, however, included all “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Francis said, outlining the challenges of building such a big piece out in the open, which included everything from covering up the water-based clay sculpture to working in front of an almost constant stream of visitors taking pictures and posting to social media.
“I like to work that big,” she said, stressing the importance of the size of the sculpture and how that made people stop and look.
Wilcox called the reception “striking,” adding that the “ambitious scale” of Francis’ sculpture was instrumental in its success.
When the installation was about to be disassembled, Francis was contacted by Mashonda Tifrere, a singer and artist who owns ArtLeadHer, an organization the curator founded to promote female artists. When Francis asked her if she knew anybody who would be interested in collecting “Take Me With You,” Tifrere immediately pointed toward The Dean Collection, owned by her ex-husband Swizz Beatz.
Tifrere, who is curating an all-women sculpture show for April 29, came across Francis’ piece on Instagram and “immediately fell in love with it,” she said in a phone interview. When Francis reached out to her to try and keep the sculpture from being destroyed after its tenure had ended at Socrates Sculpture Park, it broke Tifrere’s heart, she said.
“I gave [Swizz Beatz and wife Alicia Keys] the images, the history of the piece, and they immediately fell in love,” she said, adding that the sculpture will live in the garden of the couple’s New Jersey home.
“I was really excited because the more I found out about The Dean Collection, the more I realized how much Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz really seemed to appreciate and love art,” Francis said. “Not everyone can take in a monumental piece.
“I feel like it went to the right place.”
Francis is now working on a sculpture to be installed in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn called “Adorn Me,” which will consist of three African heads joined together by a head piece that resembles a chandelier, she said.
“The area is gentrified, but there is also a low-income housing development right there,” Francis said of the Fort Greene neighborhood. “There is a cultural borderline, so the piece is in that fashion — a Victorian, Colonial influence signifying the conversion between African and other cultures.”