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High School: Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian by Michael Richards (Art Card)

Michael Richards (Jamaican American, 1963 to 2001), Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, 1999, resin on steel, Courtesy the Michael Richards Foundation

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About the Artist

Michael Richards was a Black American artist with Caribbean and Costa Rican ancestry. He made work that explored Black history and folklore within the context of American society.


About the Art

This sculpture combines the iconography of a Catholic saint with a self-portrait of the artist dressed as a Tuskegee Airman.


Look Closely

  • What is the person wearing? What items are attached to his body? What inferences can you make about the person?
  • How would you describe the person’s facial expression? What do you think he is doing or feeling?
  • What is the person doing with his hands and feet? How does body language add more context to your interpretation?



  • Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian commemorates the Tuskegee Airmen, Black pilots whose heroic contributions to World War II were not recognized until recently. Use prior knowledge and research to think about the Tuskegee Airmen through the lenses of power and identity. How does their place in history tell a story of power? In what ways does their story also reflect oppression and social injustice? How does Richards capture the complexity of power in this sculpture?
  • St. Sebastian was a soldier who was shot with arrows at the order of a Roman emperor when he refused to denounce his faith. How does the artist reference St. Sebastian? How is he comparing the Tuskegee Airmen to St. Sebastian?



The Tar Baby character is derived from African diaspora folklore. In Uncle Remus stories, a villainous character uses a tar doll to trap the protagonist. Since the mid-20th century, the phrase has been used as a racial slur.

  • How does this information change your understanding of the title of the work?
  • What new connections might you make?


Más información

Visit the “Learn More” sidebar to find more information about the work of art and artist and find other works of art that relate to the subject matter, media, and techniques used by the artist.

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