Violent...Not I

2017 / spoken word performance

Violent...Not I adopts the structure of Samuel Beckett's play Not Iand Malcolm X's speech Confronting White Oppression delivered on Valentine's Day 1965 one week before he was murdered. Over 50 years later and through the lens of a Black female perspective, Malcolm's message still rings just as unsettling and accurate. 

“Plenty of writers can write a play about a state of mind, but he (Samuel Beckett) actually put that state of mind on the stage, in front of your eyes.” 

- Billie Whitelaw after working with Beckett

Shot by Amy Olivia Pierce, edited by Eleanor Kipping, live audio recorded by 91.9 WMEB at the University of Maine Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center, Copyright ® 2016 ELEANOR KIPPING

Brown Paper Bag Test

2017 / 6-channel audio, portraits, brown paper

Seven 24"x36" portraits of Black identifying women are suspended, portrait backs are exposed and covered in brown paper. In close proximity to each portrait hangs a raw speaker housed in a small parabolic dome. Heard in the space are first person retellings on topics of hair, colorism, and sexuality as experienced by the photographed women. They are recounted by the artist and play asynchronously, one from each speaker. Their voices are all one, the artist's, yet reveal themselves as individual in the telling of each subject's truth. Participants were interviewed by the artist in individual and group settings in New York City, and transcripts were used to construct the spoken narratives.

Paper bags were once used as a point of comparison to determine which slaves would work as field slaves, and which would be house slaves, with favor given to the fair-skinned. These were often women who were required to raise the master's children and keep the home, as well as serve as mistresses. This resulted in the birth of additional light-skinned children who would also serve as slaves.

The paper bag test continued within Black communities long after slavery was abolished. These standards of beauty are still perpetuated both interracially and interracially through media, popular culture, and in educational and professional settings, and define contemporary forms of colorism. Colorism is defined as discrimination towards individuals based on the shade of their skin, typically between members of the same race.

Photo and video by Amy Olivia Pierce, installation audio recorded by Duane Shimmel

Weave of Support & Felicia with the Good Hair

Weave of Support, 2016 /synthetic hair, thread, wooden beads, metal split rings, elastic, metal fasteners

36 C, 1 piece

A bra made of synthetic Kanekalon braiding hair that the artist wore for eight weeks prior to this piece's undertaking. Employing the bra as symbolic metaphor, Weave of Support draws a visual parallel between the well-known bra and the mysterious weave in an attempt to draw attention to what the weave represents to black females, their identity, bodies, sexuality and social standing.

Historically, synthetic hairstyles have been  worn by black women in an attempt to assimilate, meet corporate dress codes, and in response to media that do not represent black females, their bodies, or sexuality in a positive and accurate light. The bra has long time been used to change the shape of a woman’s body to a desired standard, objectifying and sexualizing women, while serving the male gaze. In addition, women are expected to wear them. For these reasons the bra is historically and symbolically linked to feminist activism and social critique.

Photo credit: an ambiguous white male

Felicia with the Good Hair, 2016, photograph, 16"x24"