Edwards made The Lifted X in 1965, the year of the assassination of Malcolm X, the establishment of the Black Arts Movement, and the Watts Rebellion—six days of civic uprising in a predominantly black neighborhood of Los Angeles, the city where Edwards lived and worked. Titled upon completion in remembrance of the slain civil rights activist, the imposing sculpture, made from gnarled, welded steel balanced within and atop a rectangular steel armature, seems to have been born from the turbulence of its time.
Edwards learned to weld in 1960, and in 1963 he began his ongoing Lynch Fragments series of small wall reliefs. Between two and three Lynch Fragments form the central body of The Lifted X. Unified in medium, the metal elements are not obviously parts of earlier works or other objects; in this way, Edwards’s sculptures sidestep the category of assemblage, though not entirely its technique. Completely abstract except for the unmistakable meat hook hanging in clear view, the sculpture evokes an instrument of torture. “When important persons die, they rise,” Edwards has said. According to the artist, in death Malcolm X became a martyr: assassination only expanded the significance of his words and actions. In this context, rather than a symbol of mourning or a torture device, The Lifted X is a triumphant object of defiance.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)