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The Photographic Work of Clara Gutsche, Adrian Piper and Allyson Clay
Piper takes on a much more disruptive and confrontational role masquerading as a young black man in The Mythic Being series. If Piper’s ‘whiteness’ insulated her from the cruellest side of racism, her decidedly black and lower-class male alter-ego left her particularly vulnerable 1 (22).
Adrian Piper, The Mythic Being: It Doesn't Matter Who You Are #1 of 3 1975, poster. Adrian Piper, The Mythic Being: I Embody Everything You Most Hate and Fear 1975, poster.
Initiated as public performances, Piper’s alter-ego character acted out stereotypical behaviour of a street-wise young black man in white, middle and upper-class social environments, such as gallery openings and theatre lobbies. Her provocative behaviour exposed Piper to reactions of overt racist avoidance and hostility from the white crowd. These performances and people’s reactions inspired Piper to create a number of related works, among them a series of drawings and hand-altered black and white photographs, including The Mythic Being #1-3
and The Mythic Being: I/You (Her)
. Piper used thought-bubble text to articulate the unspoken thoughts and fears of society’s racist dialogue. During Piper’s performances, her character played the black adversary setting up conflict for the culturally connoted white protagonist. In the photographs, Piper’s alter-ego character shifts to the role of protagonist in order to possess the authority to question the viewer’s racism. The discomfort Piper’s photographs may initially instigate in the white viewer is a necessary step in opening dialogue about racism. She creates an opportunity to develop empathy for the racial other by placing the viewer in a position of subjugation, and thus allows insight into the position of other.
As in Food For the Spirit, Piper stares directly at the viewer. This time her image is clear and constant; she confronts the disquieted viewer and demands the viewer reflect upon her/his assumptions of the racial other. The text makes overt the prejudices we are taught to keep hidden in polite society. Her use of applied marks and text to the photos, progressive dialogue between images and the serial format, allow the images to be read like a comic strip. Piper inhabits this form not to imply a comedic dismissal or to negate the seriousness of her intent, but to perhaps remind the viewer that what is seen/feared is not a real person, but a stereotype and a caricature.
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1. Maurice Berger, “Styles of Radical Will: Adrian Piper and the Indexical Present,” Adrian Piper A Retrospective (Baltimore: Fine Arts Gallery University of Maryland Publishers, 1999).