A Manifesto by Lonnie Holley 10 lessons learned from the artist’s extraordinary life

Cover Image - A Manifesto by Lonnie Holley
WordsLonnie Holley

American artist-musician Lonnie Holley’s life and art have been defined by struggle, resistance, and hope. Born in Birmingham, Alabama at the height of the Jim Crow era, he was taken away from his family as a child by a burlesque dancer, who later swapped him for a bottle of whiskey; and over the course of his life, he would endure a car accident that left him in a coma for several months, inhospitable foster homes, a stint at the infamous Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children (which he described as “basically a slave camp for Black children”), and instances of racial discrimination.

As an artist, Holley has transformed those experiences into totemic sculptures made from salvaged materials; and, since 2012, he’s been releasing experimental free jazz albums, too. Here, Holley shares his 10 rules for life and creativity.

Since the 1970s, Lonnie Holley has turned collective and personal traumas into sculpture and music. Holley’s work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2023 his work appeared as part of a show called “Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers” at London’s Royal Academy. Along with releasing his own music over the years, releasing his sixth album “Oh Me Oh My” in 2023, he has collaborated with Dirty Projectors, Bon Iver, and Animal Collective. He was born in 1950.

Manifesto is a series on WePresent which invites activists and creatives with something to say to write 10 rules to live by, in order to help spread their message. The artwork on this page was created by Eso Tolson.