Two-story Black power hair pick, symbol of African identity, erected near Gallier Hall

A gigantic Afro hair pick, decorated with a peace sign and surmounted by a clenched Black fist, popped up in Lafayette Square on Friday evening. A social media video shows New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell pulling away sheeting to expose the estimated 24-foot-tall steel creation of artist Hank Willis Thomas.

In a tweet, Cantrell declared the new addition to the city’s streetscape “Breathtaking.”

The enormous sculpture recalls the Black power movement of the 1960s, when the silhouettes of hair pick combs and raised fists were symbols of racial identity and political activism. On Saturday afternoon, passersby paused to take photographs of the prominent new cultural symbol near New Orleans’ former City Hall.  

The imposing pick is part of the Monumental Tour, a traveling exhibition of large-scale outdoor works by Black artists. Others in the exhibit include a conceptual artwork by Coby Kennedy, in the form of a transparent jail cell, on the Camp Street side of Lafayette Square, and a sculpture of enormous metal hands, by Christopher Myers, at Baldwin and Co. bookstore, 1030 Elysian Fields Ave.

The exhibit website says the three sculptures were provided by New Orleans Office of Cultural Economy, the Essence Festival of Culture and the Kindred Arts organization. The sculptures arrived in time for Juneteenth celebrations this weekend and will remain in place through the 2022 Essence Fest, June 30 to July 3, and depart to their next destination after July 12. 

“This sculpture is very fitting for this time and place,” a City Hall spokesperson said, when asked about the Thomas artwork. “As we celebrate the freedoms that we have gained this Juneteenth, we know that it does not come without struggles, without fights and without protests for more than 200 years. The fight and struggle for equality, respect and freedom continue to this day for those of us who continue to be discriminated against because of the color of our skin and the texture and style of our hair.”

The spokesperson did not answer questions about the cost of the project.

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