The voices (and works) of the past are coming in strong and are louder than ever. Everything that is happening today, the unrest and the breakthroughs, are built on the persistent work of those that proceeded it. We have so many to thank.
Adrian Piper, Thank you for the work you have made since the 1960s. Thank you for who you’ve been and for who you continue to be. Your presence is powerful and your contribution is beyond measure.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a major career retrospective for Adrian Piper in 2018, the largest show ever for a living artist. And the Hammer Museum is Los Angeles, known for its permanent collection of historical art presented a 50 year survey of her work. But the artist they were praising declined the invitation to attend. Piper was not present for the exhibitions, because she refused to return to the United States. Not even the holy grail of art world honors could bring her back.
An American conceptual artist and philosopher, Adrian Piper’s work addresses professional ostracism, otherness, racial passing, and racism by using various traditional and non-traditional media to provoke self-analysis. Piper was born in New York City on September 20, 1948. She received a master’s in philosophy from Harvard University in 1977 and her doctorate in 1981. In the 1970’s she was kicked out of the art world for her race and sex. Her work started to address attitudes around racism, intending to help people confront their racist views.
Piper taught at Wellesley College, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Georgetown University, and University of California, San Diego. In 1991, she became the first female African-American philosophy professor to receive academic tenure in the United States. Wellesley College terminated her tenured full professorship in 2008. During that time she was on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration Watch List. In 2015, she was awarded the Golden Lion for best artist in the international exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Adrian Piper currently lives in Berlin, Germany.
Image: Adrian Piper, Self-Portrait as a Nice White Lady, 1995
Image: Everything #2.8, Adrian Piper, 2003
Image: Everything #2.13, Adrian Piper, 2003
Video: Keynote speaker Jörg Heiser, on the work of Adrian Piper
The following images and text are works and words of Adrian Piper.
Image: Decide Who You Are #1, Adrian Piper, 1992
Image: Detail from “Everything #21, Adrian Piper, 2010-13
Image: Pretend #3, Adrian Piper, 1990 “Pretend not to know what you know”
Images: Close to Home, 2 of 15 photographs, Adrian Piper, 1987
Image: Pretend #2, Adrian Piper, 1990 “Pretend not to know what you know”
Image: Think About It, Adrian Piper, 1987, mock-up for billboard design
Image: Adrian Piper, Catalysis IV, 1970. Photographer Rosemary Mayer
Image: My Calling Card #1 and #2, Adrian Piper (1986-1990)
Image: The Mythic Being: Say It Like You Mean It, Adrian Piper, 1975
“I am identified as “black” by others, both “black” and “white,” only when this serves to enhance their own social status, and not otherwise. Identifying myself as “black” had also very often served this function for me. I had regarded it as an honor and a privilege to be counted among the members of a community that had proved its mettle, its intelligence, and its genius by surviving and sometimes flourishing amid the most resourceful and sustained effort to destroy its humanity the world has ever seen.”
Image: I Am Some Body, the Body of My Friends, #1-18, 1992-95, 1 of 18 photographs. Photo of Adrian Piper and her mother, when she was suffering from emphysema, towards the end of her life.
Image: Safe #1–4, Adrian Piper (1990) “We are around you”
Image: Safe, 1 of 4 framed photographs and audio, Adrian Piper, 1990 “You are safe”
Now, let’s deal with this social fact, and the fact of my stating it, together.
Maybe you don’t see why we have to deal with it together. Maybe you think it’s just my problem and that I should deal with it by myself.
But it’s not just my problem. It’s our problem.”