Too Obvious

David Hammons (b. 1943) Too Obvious, 1996 Cowrie shells and porcelain 7 × 12 × 14 in. The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of Edward Clark, New York 2002.7

One might expect to find coins spilling out of this broken piggy bank. Instead, it is filled with white cowrie shells, a precolonial West African currency. Under colonialism, paper money replaced shells as the representation of value. David Hammons’s sculpture appears to reverse this shift, while revealing the history of subjugation of Black and brown laborers in the construction of global capitalism. By transforming everyday objects such as the piggy bank, Hammons evokes overlooked histories of Black Americans in his art. 

Artist in Residence 1980–81