In honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating works by African American artists, including Samuel Levi Jones's Elements, 2018, which is currently on view in We the People: New Art from the Collection.
To create Elements, Samuel Levi Jones quilted together dozens of covers removed from medical textbooks and other authoritative volumes deaccessioned from a San Francisco library. Jones began working with resource books, such as encyclopedias, in 2011. He recognized that although such texts may seem increasingly marginal in a world of digitized and decentralized knowledge, they still wield significant influence on the power structures that shape our lives. For example, western medical science as we know it today—the body of knowledge represented by the books that make up Elements—is built on centuries of unequal treatment of patients and, in some cases, outright exploitation of minority populations. For Jones, many eastern medical traditions offer a more holistic approach to well-being, and the title of this work alludes to the theory of five elements foundational to many of these disciplines.