Tik Root | The Atlantic (October 2018 Issue)| Photo: Associated Press
In the boyle heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, tucked between a gas station and what looks to be an abandoned warehouse, sits a former ceramics factory that now houses the studio of Glenn Kaino, a prominent conceptual artist. One morning in April, Kaino opened the back door and ushered inside the Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith; Smith’s wife, Delois; and me. We were greeted by an imposing stack of 70 or 80 cardboard boxes. “What are those?” asked Smith, who at 6 foot 4 towers above Kaino. “Arms,” Kaino responded. “Those are all arms?” Delois exclaimed.
The arms are not just any arms, but fiberglass casts of Smith’s actual right arm, made from a silicone mold that Kaino took a few years back. Dozens of replicas are now strewn across the studio, in various states of preparation. Each one extends from the shoulder to a gloved fist, every vein and ripple of muscle discernible along the way. When any of the arms is held upright, its significance is immediately evident.