the gibbes museum of art

OMNISCIENCE A Sculpture by Fred Wilson

December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 PM

Meeting Street


Fred Wilson’s Omniscience is inspired by the story of Omar Ibn Said an Islamic scholar enslaved in the Carolinas from 1807 until his death in 1864. Said is believed to have written the only known Arabic-language autobiography penned by an enslaved African in the United States. This manuscript—now housed at the Library of Congress—documents Said’s life in West Africa as an educated and devout Muslim, and his experiences of being captured at age thirty-seven by Christian enslavers who transported him across the Atlantic to the ports of Charleston where he was sold into slavery.

Renowned for work that challenges assumptions of history, culture, race and conventions of display, Wilson’s interdisciplinary practice reframes objects and cultural symbols to encourage viewers to reconsider traditional social and historical narratives. While centering Said’s written manuscript, Wilson collaborated with blacksmiths at the American College of the Building Arts to explore Said’s powerful story through a metalwork created in the tradition of the wrought ironwork common in Charleston’s historic built environment. The sculpture installed at the entrance to the museum is the Wilson’s first-ever venture in ironwork. 

Born in Bronx, New York, Wilson earned his bachlors degree in fine arts at Purchase College, State University New York. He received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ‘Genious’ Award (1999) and the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2003). He represented the United States at the Cairo Bienniale (1992) and Venice Biennale (2003). His works are held in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum Harlem, The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, and Tate London. Omniscience is the first work Wilson has created specifically for a museum in the southeast. 

This outdoor sculpture installation is made possible by generous support provided by Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Jones of The Wayne and Carolyn Jones Charitable Foundation, Cathy and Buddy Jenrette, Middleton Outdoor Sculpture Fund, Ms. Kathryn P. Salmanowitz of The Harold Salmonwitz Charitable Lead Annuity Trust and The Kathryn P. Salmanowitz Donor Advised Fund, South Carolina Arts Commission, Bank of America, Lynch Cracraft Wealth Management of Raymond James, Ms. Elizabeth Saal of the Joseph J. Schott Found, Jill and Richard Almeida, Jane and Allan Anderson, Emma and George Christopher of The Emma and George Christopher Charitable Fund, Nicole and Amir Dan Rubin, Southern Land Company, Cynthia and Ronald Thompson, Martie and David Adams, Kathleen and Bob Carroll, Janet Hopkins, Deborah Kennedy Kennard and William Kennard of The Kennard Kennedy Family Fund

Special thanks to the American College of the Building Arts, City of Charleston, Evans and Schmidt Architects, Pace Gallery and Spoleto Festival USA.


I became entranced by the decorative metal here…the iron gates and fences in Charleston, and in other places are barriers keeping people out or keeping people in …yet they are made beautiful. I am interested in that duality.