GLAM Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning - Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library

An Upcycled Hood: The Creations of Chakaia Booker

Chakaia Booker was born in 1953 and raised in Newark, New Jersey. She is a sculptural and abstract artist. From a young age, she was inspired by fashion and style. She was taught by the women around her to sew during her childhood. As a young woman, she would create all of her clothing, and continued to hone this craft. Her work has been displayed and recognized in both international and national settings. In addition, her work is exhibited across Africa, Asia, America, and Europe. Most, if not all of Booker’s work is sculpted with the use of discarded tires, steel, rubbers, and wood as a means of social expression. Booker’s fascination with these materials started in the early 90s. She would obtain and recycle these items from junkyards and waste facilities. Although her initial interest originated with the easy access of the materials, she was awakened to the creative possibilities and power the scrap possessed. Each work of art that Chakaia creates is different and speaks to different aspects of her lived experience and the audiences’. She intends to spark dialogue through the sculptures she takes time to mold, bend, and shape.  

“Like a painter having a palette, my palette is the textures of the treads, the fibers from discarded materials, and tires that I use to create varied effects,” Booker told Sculpture magazine in 2003. Booker's work speaks volumes. Growing up in Manhattan’s East Village, Booker often came across burnt cars, rubbers, and shredded tires. She took what was a part of her everyday experience and remodeled it into statements. Her creations emphasize the circle of life, aspects of intersectionality, as well as the significance of the reuse and value of earth’s elements. As far as the circle of life, much of the stuff she uses to create is old, worn, and sometimes completely ruined. Though she restores and reconstructs said pieces into novel works of art. Also, it is important to note that Booker uses the aged nature of the scrap as a symbol of the biorhythm and aging cycles of mankind. All of the materials that she uses naturally have varying colors and tones and this signifies the intersectionality and diversity of humanity. She also draws attention to the tire treads as it resembles designs of textile from the African Diaspora. Booker’s reuse and refurbishment of tires, rubber, and steel draw our attention to the value these items bring to our livelihood. 


Nuri Bradshaw