When I was growing up, before the BMW officially became the “Black Man’s Wish,” it was the Cadillac El Dorado, which was the ultimate male automotive status symbol, bar none! Artist Uzikee Nelson has borrowed on that tradition to celebrate Hispanic culture’s pre-Columbian ancestry.
Uzikee formally unveiled his latest outdoor sculpture–Eldorado Gold–at the Josephine Butler House in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, a Latino residential stronghold. It was unveiled, ironically on Columbus Day–Oct. 12, the anniversary of the date the explorer landed in the Caribbean in 1492, opening up the Western and its indigenous people to genocide and domination by the Europeans to follow. The reason he chose Oct. 12, is because it would have been his father’s 100th birthday.
The two-sided sculpture is an 8-foot-tall weathered steel piece, with gold glass. It was inspired by a visit to Latin America where Uzikee discovered that the use of gold was commonplace, before the Europeans with gunpowder conquered the people and robbed them of their gold. The location: El Dorado. El Dorado Gold.
“I wanted to make this piece to represent the Hispanic people that are in this city and this country,” Uzikee told this writer. “They have no monuments to them, that I know of, so I said, I was going to make one.”
The monument faces Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park, and it stands in front of the hub for social and cultural activities, the Josephine Butler Parks Building at 2437 15th St., N.W. “I feel positive public art is important as a sign of validation,” Uzikee said. “This city of monuments is famous for overlooking the contributions of those outside the dominant culture, so I wanted something for the Hispanics working and living in the city and metropolitan area.
“We see (Hispanics) working on buildings and other menial jobs and sometimes forget that they come from people and proud cultures that existed before Columbus came to the Americas. Some people have a problem with the Hispanic people. They say they are taking their jobs . I don’t see it that way myself.”
Uzikee is a retired professor of engineering at the University of the District of Columbia. He has other similar monumental sculptures in public locations around the city, and his work has been purchased and can be seen in the Reeves Municipal Bldg., and in various Industrial Bank lobbies. His work can also be seen on the 1400 block of Belmont Street, N.W.; on the northeast corner of 16th St. and Arkansas Ave., N.W.; Georgia Ave., near Upshur St., N.W.; at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum, in S.E.
Uzikee describes his art as African inspired stylized productions. In fact, “El Dorado Gold” is the first piece that he has done which merges the pre-Columbian and African styles he discovered during travels to Mexico and South America.
“My art is a labor of love,” Uzikee insists. “I can’t afford to get caught up in the politics of financing public art.” To that end, all of his works have been produced and financed in the District without having to resort to outside financing.