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A Sculptor Launches His Art to The Skies

By: Alex Yang

On the Night before June teenth, the Memphis artist Desmond Lewis unloaded firework charges in front of 150 spectators. Lewis mainly works as a sculptor, creating art from industrial materials like concrete and steel. For example, the sculpture “America’s Forgotten” is a 16-foot-tall concrete tube adorned with steel chains.

His work represents a connection between the materials he uses and the “forgotten” history of African American labor. To him, the smooth surfaces of concrete are reminiscent of the ways in which the history that surrounds African American labor histories are dismissed or covered up. While many other works of art feature smooth surfaces, Lewis’s look mangled or ruined, exposing their story in a way that Lewis understands.

But this display was not just about his sculptures; Lewis’s pyrotechnic interest began in 2018 when he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He had been contending with images of incidents in places like Baltimore. “As a Black person,” he explains, “you can only hold so much in for so long.”

And while conducting research to find a way an explosion could be rendered sculpturally, Lewis realized that there was little visual difference between the flames that come from a firework and those from a burning car. “One’s socially acceptable,” he says, “the other’s not.” After getting his operator’s license from a large pyrotechnics company, he went to try to start his own show.

He traveled around his state to get all his materials, and on the night before Juneteenth, he set up his firework show with three friends who all grew up in Greensville. He used nearly 300 pounds of explosives for around 5 minutes of fireworks.

Although these performances can’t compare to some state-funded shows, the display was beautiful, and it showed the experiences that he had gone through.

“Sensational,” said Kamron Daniels another of the organizers, moments after the show ended. When asked if they would do it all over again, he answered, “Without a doubt.” When asked if it was worth it, Lewis responded “why can’t we just have our five minutes?”

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