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Embodied AvatarsGenealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance$
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Uri McMillan

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781479802111

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479802111.001.0001

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Is This Performance about You?

Is This Performance about You?

The Art, Activism, and Black Feminist Critique of Howardena Pindell

(p.153) 4 Is This Performance about You?
Embodied Avatars

Uri McMillan

NYU Press

This chapter focuses on abstract painter Howardena Pindell and her controversial Free, White, and 21 (1980), a video art piece in which Pindell—playing all parts—staged a dialogue between reincarnations of herself and a caricature of a white feminist who callously debunks the veracity of her experiences. The chapter interprets the video as a black feminist counterpublic that is not simply about critique, but also racism-as-trauma; furthermore, it detail Pindell’s performative engagements with cross-racial embodiment and avatar-play. Yet, in efforts to contextualize both the video’s content and Pindell’s career, the chapter begins with an examination of the various political and artistic communities Pindell participated in, or was denied access to, in the late 1960s and 1970s. In doing so, the chapter’s aim is to render visible not only the manifold tensions that arose from the merging of art and politics in this period, but more explicitly the difficulties in being a black woman artist excluded from avant-garde circles (both black and white), partly for making abstract work that was deemed not sufficiently “black.” The last part of the chapter discusses Pindell’s vociferous rebuke of “art world racism” through her involvement in PESTS, an anonymous arts organization. It turns to PESTS’s remains—a flyer, poster replicas, and two obscure newsletters—that serve as public engagements with the invisibility, exclusion, and tokenism faced by artists of color.

Keywords:   MoMA, Abstraction, Black art, AIR, Studio Museum of Harlem, Free White and 21, trauma, PESTS, art world racism, Black feminist counterpublic

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