Seeing Andrea Bowers’s “The Triumph of Labor” through Language

Andrea Bowers, “The Triumph of Labor”, 2016. Marker on cardboard. 108.75 x 248 x 6.5 in. (276.23 x 629.92 x 16.51 cm)

Verbal Description tours at the Jewish Museum bring our exhibitions to life for visitors who are blind or have low vision, using descriptive language and touch objects to convey the visual world. In conjunction with The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, an exhibition pairing contemporary works of art with each chapter of philosopher Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, the following verbal description closely examines a work by the artist Andrea Bowers:

The Triumph of Labor is a large-scale mural that hangs dominantly in the gallery. Bowers created this monumental artwork by flattening cardboard shipping boxes, attaching them together, and then drawing by hand over the entirety of the cardboard surface using black marker.

The image that she has drawn is an adaptation of an illustration made in 1891 by the British artist Walter Crane, meant to honor people who work with their hands. The style of Bowers’ cardboard mural has the same graphic quality of Crane’s woodcut image, and includes the same allegorical figures of Triumph and Prosperity, as well as figures of 19th century laborers. Yet, Bowers has made them life-size and incorporated text that relates to 21st century activism and labor issues.

At the top of the artwork in the center of the composition, we see text in all capital letters, the title of the artwork: The Triumph of Labor. At the bottom center of the artwork is the statement:

“Dedicated to the wage workers of all countries.”

Beginning from the right side of the composition is the allegorical figure of Triumph who is leading a procession of laborers. This figure is about 5 feet tall and is dressed in a neoclassical-style robe. She looks back to the figures that she is leading. Behind her on horseback is a man who also looks back at the procession. He and his horse extend from the bottom to the top of the mural almost 8 feet tall. In his left hand he is holding a sign that says the phrase:

“Dignity and a living wage.”

His right hand waves a hat back to the procession as if to wave them onward. Behind these two figures that lead the procession are two men who are also about 5 feet tall. These men walk forward holding a banner that says:

“El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!”

Which translates to:

“The people united will never be defeated.”

Following these two men are two oxen that are pulling a wooden cart filled with about 12 people. Walking alongside this cart are people, again who are about five feet tall. These include two people playing instruments and a woman holding a baby in her arms, and a small child. This cart and the people walking alongside of it begins at the center of the composition and extends all the way to the left side of the composition. The cart has several banners that are held by people. The phrases on these banners are:

“The Land for the People”
“Labor is the Source of Wealth” 
“The International Solidarity of Labor” 
“Wage Workers of All Countries UNITE”

The image is a celebratory scene of laborers who are united.

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