Arkansas, United States (1940) – Berlin, Germany (2021)

Fire Cup  2019

basalt stone, oak wood, charcoal

Courtesy of the artist

As a poet, activist, visual artist, performer, teacher and essayist, Jimmie Durham worked to deconstruct historical narratives imposed by dominant cultures. His artistic practice was grounded in the process of combining disparate materials that, when assembled, generate a rupture within the conventions of language and knowledge. Both wood and stone have often been used by the artist precisely in relation to the power dynamics with which they are organised in architectural or monumental constructions. A devotion to the specific qualities of materials, along with the poetry and humour of his approach to them, serve to underline the inherent generosity of nature and to open up alternative modes of relationship within it. Fire Cup is an oak wood and basalt stone sculpture that combines natural elements for both their material qualities and symbolic resonance and evokes an ancestral transmission. Its concave shapes, reminiscent of domes or cups, are known to have been made by human hand since the Paleolithic period. As with the rubbing of wooden fire sticks in these stone hollows, here Durham has set fire to the constructed divisions between nature and culture.



Chert and humans make fire.

Break bones also, of larger animals

So that the fat marrow can be roasted

In the fire. For thousands of years

Humans have made tools from chert.


Incredible dexterous craft, making

An axe or knife from stone.

This we found is old old old.

By weight it’s one thousand one hundred

And thirty seven grams. Thirty seven

Thousand years old, or more.


Too heavy to fight with or strike

A goat or ox for my weak old arms.

Sharpened to a striking, not cutting, edge

On one side, it maintains the rounded shape

It had before the human encounter,

Horribly comfortable and fitting

Into a large rough hand.



Jimmie Durham, A stone (2016)