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Institute of Contemporary Art Miami


Tau Lewis
The Tongue and the Teeth, 2020

Recycled fabric, recycled leather, acrylic paint, stones, seashells
70 x 70 in.
Museum Purchase with funds provided by the Witkoff Family
Image credit
Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery. Photo by Nik Massey
Tau Lewis The Tongue and the Teeth, 2020 Recycled fabric, recycled leather, acrylic paint, stones, seashells, 70 x 70 in. Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami Museum purchase with funds provided by The Witkoff Family

Tau Lewis transforms natural and synthetic materials—found textiles, furs, human hair, pipes,

and natural artifacts—into figurative sculptures, installations, and quilts that invoke ancestors

while narrating the present.

The Tongue and the Teeth (2020) is a quilted tondo made of found stingray leather and recycled

fabric, as well as stones and seashells from the shores of the artist’s native Jamaica. Telling a

mythological tale of birth and growth, the work depicts cross-sections of two pregnant (or

birthing) human bodies, their feet spread to its outer edges and their hands connecting around the

center. An oculus of black and white shells and stones at the center of the piece marks wombs as

sources of knowledge and growth. The work’s title cites an Adinkra symbol used by the Akan

people of Ghana. The symbol for Ese Ne Tekrema shows interlocking teeth and a tongue that

symbolize friendship and interdependence. Other symbols signify “vigilance” and “peace and

unity.” In this work, Lewis puts these symbols and their concepts and aphorisms into a

contemporary context that connects to the histories and knowledge of the African diaspora in the


Tau Lewis (b. 1993, Toronto) has been honored with a solo exhibition at Atlanta Contemporary

(2018); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2021); and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2021). Lewis

has been featured in group shows at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2021); MoMA PS1,

Queens, New York (2017); and the New Museum, New York (2017). Lewis lives and works in