LONDON — In 2007, a replica 18th-century ship called the “Zong” sailed up the river Thames to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. The floating museum took its name from the infamous slave ship Zong, and the 1781 massacre in which the captain threw 133 slaves overboard, in order to collect insurance. The atrocity was immortalized in J.M.W Turner’s painting “The Slave Ship” (1840), originally titled “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon coming on.”
Sondra Perry, an African American artist who uses open source digital software to create video installations, takes the title of her first solo European show from Turner’s painting. Walking into Typhoon Coming On, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until May 20, you are immediately surrounded by rippling purple waves, which were generated by computer imaging software and are projected onto the gallery’s interior walls. The video intermittently switches between those waves and oil paint brushstrokes, in cloudy white and burnt orange.
In other words, Perry engulfs you in the elements of Turner’s The Slave Ship. Using video and post-production effects to connect digital technology with marginalized identities, Perry examines the role that technology plays in the brutalisation of black people. In this show the artist revisits work from Resident Evil, one of her previous shows, but invokes the Zong Massacre so that visitors cannot ignore the UK’s complicity in the slaughter.
Discomfort is one of Perry’s tools. One video installation, “TK (Suspicious Glorious Absence),” previously appeared in Resident Evil, but it has been modified in key ways: it no longer includes a sofa, and is not designed to make you feel at home. One visitor slid to floor to watch the 17-minute video collage of found footage, blue screens, home video and new clips. Another filmed for a few minutes before leaving. At one point, a distorted clip from Fox News appears; activist Kwame Rose confronts Geraldo Rivera about biased reporting in Baltimore following the 2015 death, in police custody, of Freddie Gray. Unlike last time, all the faces are obscured by glitching. Can you remember the faces? Can you picture Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s death, from his voice? The footage cuts abruptly, as though someone changed the channel.
Abstraction and absence makes the exhibition participatory: you are forced to fill in gaps, to put in the work, sometimes even physically. One installation features an exercise bike and three screens, which crowd around the face of the rider. A 3D avatar of Perry materializes, as though she wants to explain the exhibition — but suddenly the background switches from memory-error-blue to an extreme close-up of Perry’s skin churning, looking both molten and waterlogged. “What’s still familiar is our incredible exhaustion. Moving, running, daily with you niggas all up in our fucking faces,” the avatar says, before stuttering and crashing like an overburdened computer. At one point, the Perry avatar asks: “How does your body feel inside of us?”
“Wet and Wavy Looks (2016),” which takes the form of a rowing machine with its tank filled with blue hair gel instead of water, is similarly direct. Purple waves fill the three attached monitors, accompanied by ambient music. The longer you stare at the waves, the less they resemble water and just rippling lines. But the oil painting abstraction returns, and the music becomes a low growl and then an unearthly wail and you find yourself again in the waters that swallowed 133 slaves.
In a short documentary made about the commemorative voyage of the Zong, in 2007, the narrator remarks that the choir on board would safely disembark at Tower Bridge and walk away free — unlike all those lost in the inhumanity of the Middle Passage, not to mention the millions who made it, in chains, to solid land. In the exhibition, there is no reprieve from the reminder of the Zong, but the visitor exits into Hyde Park. Bird song replaces echoing groans. There are no ominous purple waves; museums and royal palaces surround the Serpentine. But it is there that the typhoon awaits, a reckoning amongst the immense wealth of West London that comes from the realization that, as Perry suggests, we benefit from colonial theft and the legacy of atrocities, of which the Zong massacre was just one.
Sondra Perry: Typhoon Coming On continues at Serpentine Sackler Gallery (Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London) until May 20.
Rose B. Simpson Embeds Ancestral Histories in Clay
She has taken clay and used it to recall its ancestral roots in Pueblo culture and address the present history of postcolonial recovery and ongoing trauma.
Quiet Paintings at a Time of Sensory Overload
Where Kim Mikyung’s process suggests an obsessive burrowing into the self, Kim Hyung-dae casts his gaze upward and outward into the sky.
Mondays at Pratt Institute: Weekly Openings of Work by Graduating Artists
Free and open to the public, Pratt Shows celebrate the school’s graduating students. MFA and BFA work on view this spring in Brooklyn, New York.
Is the “Free the Nipple” Movement Too White?
Online representations of the activists lean White and thin, creating an image problem for the movement.
New “We ❤️ NYC” Campaign Misses the Mark
The recently unveiled design is meant to live alongside the iconic original and specifically address the city, but New Yorkers are not happy.
LSU School of Art Grants Highest MFA Stipends in the Southern US
With funded assistantships, full tuition waivers, and generous stipends, Louisiana State University helps students lay the groundwork for a successful lifelong art practice.
1,000+ Objects at The Met Linked to Antiquities Smugglers
A report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed hundreds of works once owned by people accused of or convicted of antiquities crimes.
Lunar Bead Necklace and Asteroid “Emoji” Head to Auction
Christie’s bizarre sale features other space rocks propped up on stands like sculptures.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Offers Summer Art and Design Courses Online and On-Campus
Emerging and established artists can choose from over 50 Adult Continuing Education courses at one of the most influential art and design schools in the US.
Scientists Create the First Full Brain Map of a Fly
The achievement is a giant step toward understanding human neural networks.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Closes Over Climate Protest
The institution shuttered in advance of an action planned for the 33rd anniversary of its infamous art heist.
IDSVA Offers a Non-Studio PhD in Visual Arts: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art Theory
With no campus, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts is a truly nomadic institution, existing everywhere our students and faculty are.
Remembering the Migrants Who Died in US Detention
Artist Jackie Amézquita will lead a caravan of trucks with the names of the deceased to LA sites representing systems of oppression and solidarity for immigrants.
Mark Thomas Gibson’s Cartoons See the US Going Nowhere
If Thomas Nast, who is considered the “Father of the American Cartoon,” has an heir, it is Gibson, who goes one step further and elevates caricature and commentary into art.
Worth remembering that it was William Murray, Lord Mansfield (1705-93), then Lord Chief Justice, who in 1783 turned down the Zong’s insurers’ shameful application for compensation for loss. In 1772 Mansfield had also freed the runaway slave James Somersett, and famously effectively adopted his illegitimate great-niece Dido Belle (1761-1804), the daughter of a liaison between his naval officer nephew Sir John Lindsay and a young black woman, Maria Belle, presumably a slave, who he rescued and freed from a captured Spanish ship while on duty in the Caribbean. Lindsay later ensured that Maria was settled in a property in Pensacola, Florida. Mansfield’s Neoclassical country villa by Robert Adam, Kenwood House, in Highgate, London, is open daily at no charge and contains a bust of Sir John Lindsay, as well as housing the Iveagh Bequest, one of the world’s greatest private art collections. A portrait of Dido Belle hangs in the Murrays’ ancestral home Scone Palace, near Perth, in Scotland, open to visitors from April through October. Paula Byrne’s excellent book Belle, published to coincide with the 2013 movie of the same name, suggests an interesting connection with Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), her only book to mention the slave trade, and whose villain, Mrs Norris, bears the name of a notorious Liverpool slaveship owner and lobbyist of the 1780s.
Comments are closed.