Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper, Safe, 1990

Adrian Piper, Safe, 1990

To enter the American artist and philosopher Adrian Piper’s (b. 1948, Harlem, New York) installations is to experience, if only fleetingly, the full impact of racial prejudice from the position of the ‘other’. The inadvertent glances and expressions of momentary fear in white eyes give a sense of what it is to be black in a white world. Piper’s statements are uncompromising attacks and invariably on target. Her directness stems from the combined visual and verbal power of her work.

For TRACE, Pipers work entitled Safe (1990), was a photographic and audio installation built into a small room. Hung like an icon across each corner of the room was an enlarged magazine photograph of a group of black people apparently enjoying a relaxed social event: perhaps a family reunion. Silk-screened texts reinforced this seductively inclusive atmosphere. ‘We are around you,’ they proclaim; ‘we are among you,’ ‘we are within you,’ ‘you are safe.’ This comfortable ambience was shattered by the audio track playing within the room. Piper was heard describing the smiling group portraits as ‘sardonic.’
The audio script broadcasted the internal monologue of an unwitting bigot for all to hear, mixed with fragments of Bach’s Aria No. 4 from St Matthew’s Passion – the song that Peter sung when he realised he has denied knowing Christ three times. Piper held out the possibility of reconciliation, whilst she simultaneously confronted the white viewer with the hypocrisy of this desire.

Adrian Piper at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Photography and sound installation,
4 framed photographs and audio
Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York