Melvin Edwards's Lynch Fragments highlight the artist’s exploration of intersectional identity, social justice, and political awareness. The series spans three periods: the early 1960s, when Edwards responded to racial violence in the United States; the early 1970s, when his activism concerning the Vietnam War motivated him to return to the series; and from 1978 to the present, when he began honoring individuals, exploring notions of nostalgia, and investigating his personal interest in African culture. As small wall reliefs, the Lynch Fragments bridge a gap between painting and sculpture. The dimensions and placement of the works are crucial to their effect, evoking the human head and the attendant complexities and nuances of identity, both personal and—with their suggestion of African masks—political.
Recognized as a pioneer in the history of contemporary African American art and sculpture, Edwards’s approach to welding began in 1960 while studying at the University of Southern California. Drawn to making assemblages of individual parts both found and created, he noticed that the objects suggested forms, reinforcing the relationship between material and image that has since become a foundation of the artist’s oeuvre. Further, Edwards looked to the use of these steel industrial and agricultural objects to lend varying cultural, social, and political connotations to his sculptures’ modernist structures. As the artist remarks, sculpture “… seemed to me a more direct way to deal with the inner subject. Sculpture allowed me to put in, in a more natural way, things that people were saying you weren't supposed to put in art, like race and politics. It allowed me to think more literally in those ways but have it come out in the work abstractly.”
Many Lynch Fragments reflect Edwards's engagement with Africa. The artist’s first visit in the 1970s coincided with a key moment in the continent's history as recently independent countries began to define their postcolonial identities. Eventually establishing a studio in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, Edwards draws inspiration from Africa’s varied metalworking traditions, histories, and languages, as well as the friendships and personal relationships he has forged there.