Adrian Piper, Mythic Being, 1973 - 1975 Favorite 



Jan 1 1973


New York

Adrian Piper disguised her identity, changing her race, sex, and social class in order to experiment in public situations and gauge people’s reactions. She investigated how outwardly visible identity markers (like skin color) impacted others’ perceptions of her character. By manipulating her (apparent) identity to produce reactions, she demonstrated the power and influence of stereotypes (Piper, 1996).

Piper dressed up as her black male alter ego, putting on a large Afro wig, sunglasses, and a mustache and cruising the streets of New York performing typically masculine behavior such as ogling women (Piper, 1996).

The performances are about people’s perceptions of a certain identity, specifically a black man exhibiting typically male behavior. They also allow Piper to free herself of the ambiguous space she occupies as a light-skinned, fine-featured, highly educated black woman. It makes the viewer contemplate his reactions to the “Mythic Being,” and perhaps reflect upon his own stereotypes and biases (Piper, 1996).

Piper’s performances recast and recontextualize a university philosophy student as a working-class black man. She utilizes the bold, unmistakable image of an Afro hairstyle to fill a specific identity (Piper, 1996).

• Mythic Being “structured by the politics of identity” in Smith it means: “an appropriate platform from which to forge community, a site around which to rally political support, a stage from which to act politically, and a matter worthy of artistic exploration and expression.” Unlike Minimalism, etc. not a neutral practice. Brings in the social. And different from Socially Engaged art —focus on the body as a test site for social actions.

• Piper makes “identity politics as a place for conceptual art practices.”

• 1970s historical context: aftermath of the anticolonial victories. Nonviolent strategies from India particularly used in American political organizing. Consciousness-raising meetings and peer pressure—figuring out a language to describe oppression. Black arts movement and Feminist art was one strategy: ”art with a purpose”
• Vietnam War and antiwar movement, Piper: “managed to infiltrate my awareness and thereby determine me and my work in ways that confront me with the politics of my position whether I want to know them or not; I have become self-conscious. [I] did a lot of thinking about [my] position as an artist, a woman, and a black; and about the natural disadvantages of those attributes.

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