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Profound and Prolific: The Confrontational Art of ADRIAN PIPER

Adrian Piper

Race, how it affects the way you relate to the world and how the world relates to you, is something we think about a lot. Sean and I are best friends with very different life experiences; he’s a Black American man and I’m a white Canadian woman. Our kids are both Black and white, Canadian and American. We find many ways to acknowledge our commonalities and acknowledge and respect our differences; we’re sensitive to each other and humble ourselves to one another. It hurts us to look out at the world and see the stubborn refusal of so many human beings to do this with each other. Artists like Adrian Piper have been pioneers in the battle against white supremacy, and her art confronts it with statements, questions, and images that merge philosophy with performance and visual art.

Born in NYC and now living in Berlin, Piper’s artwork dives into challenging the assimilation that’s expected of non-white people and the discomfort that white people feel when “the other” challenges that assimilation with their very existence. Her art isn’t scary in the normal sense of what we usually post here. It’s not full of demons and gore; instead, all the sick and twisted imagery exploring monsters and supernatural beings looks silly in comparison. Understanding Adrian Piper’s message means understanding that we’re pawns in a game where the players use our bodies and our minds against us. Her work cuts deep into the scary truth that all of us were born into a world that has us divided and conquered as long as we accept the lies. It exposes that moment of knowing and nodding, or fear and defensiveness – that’s me, or that’s not me! Piper has been confronting us for 50 years now, so looking at her work we need to ask ourselves: what legacy will our generation leave?

Piper, with a dose of pitch-perfect humor, engages in what seem like scientific investigations of identity, space, and the social and philosophical possibilities of art as a form of truth telling. She also tirelessly seeks to expose the public’s passive acceptance of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

Antwaun Sargent,
Piper Adrian – “My Calling (Card) # 1 for Dinners and Cocktail Parties” (1986–90)
Adrian Piper: My Calling Card # 2 (1986)

The Mythic Being, 1973

Piper began The Mythic Being in 1973, merging a male alter ego (the Mythic Being) with episodes from her own personal history. The project, which includes photographs, drawings, and performances, first took shape in a series of seventeen newspaper advertisements in New York’s Village Voice. In each advertisement the artist appears in drag accompanied by a “thought bubble” filled with text from a journal entry she wrote as a teenager. These adolescent texts became the artist’s personal mantras: during the month in which an ad appeared, Piper would repeat the text over and over, to “reexperience it, examine, and analyze it,” she has said. The combination of public revelation and private contemplation was an exorcism of sorts, the artist has explained. “The experience of the Mythic Being thus becomes part of the public history and is no longer a part of my own.”

Everything, 2003


Safe, 1990

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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