Postcards to the Future: HORRIFIC / Adrian Piper

In this work, pioneering conceptual artist, scholar, and philosopher Adrian Piper presents one of the earlier victims of racial brutality in the second decade of this century, Trayvon Martin.


“In one of her most well known works, “Self-Portrait as a Nice White Lady,” the figure in the rendering proclaims “Whut Choo Lookin at Mofo?” in a thought bubble above her head. The entire tension in this piece relies on language—that the figure proclaims her Blackness through speech and the title of the work. When shown, the work was walled adjacent to its companion piece, “Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features.” Together the works strip down the racist stereotypes of the angry Black woman and benign whiteness, but they also in their juxtaposition produce a prescient question about the “nature” of “race” in the first place, compelling us in their conceptual unfolding toward a moral imperative to engage the so-called other.”—Dawn Lundy Martin

Adrian Piper, Imagine [Trayvon Martin], 2013. Digital PNG formatted image, 10.43” x 10.76” (26.49 cm x 27.33 cm), 300dpi. Available for free download using the following link. Collection Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin, © APRA Foundation Berlin. 


“In the fall of 1973, images of a “Mythic Being” started showing up in the ad pages of The Village Voice. This persona of indeterminate race and gender, who wore an Afro wig, a bushy mustache and sunglasses, turned out to be a character invented by the pioneering conceptual artist and philosopher Adrian Piper. Acting as “The Mythic Being” in a series of photographs and performances by that name, Piper confronted racist and sexist stereotypes as she channeled texts from her own teenage journals, commented on political turmoil in accusatory language and cruised white women.

Piper’s incisive work challenges viewers to inhabit unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable identities. Often, she directly implicates onlookers in socially tense situations as she stares out from an image, as in her famous 1975 drawing with a speech bubble that reads, “I embody everything you most hate and fear.” . . She enlarges our sense of what it means to be empathetic by inviting viewers to identify with [the so-called] other. Piper’s art resonates with the desire to speak personally and collectively in solidarity with victims of persecution . . .

Forty years after Piper’s influential early works positioned her as a subject defiantly staring out at her audience, the artist presents a faded black-and-white image of Trayvon Martin peering through crosshairs centered on his face. In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, which intensified conversations about racial profiling and systemic discrimination, Piper’s Imagine [Trayvon Martin] offers an important injunction: rather than regarding Martin as a “mythic being”—the threatening black male in a hoodie—imagine, for a moment, that you were him.”—Editors of the Creative Time Report


Adrian Piper is a first-generation philosopher and conceptual artist, working with artwork in a variety of traditional and nontraditional media, including photo-text collage, drawing on pre-printed paper, video installation, site-specific sculptural installation, digital imagery, performance and sound works. Her work explores the nature of subjecthood and agency, the limits of the self, and the continuities and discontinuities of individual identity in the metaphysical, social and political contexts. In 1970-73, her “Catalysis” and “Mythic Being” series introduced issues of race and gender into the vocabulary of Conceptual art. She has received Guggenheim, AVA, and NEA Fellowships and in 2012 received the College Art Association Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work, for having “since the late 1960s…profoundly influenced the language and form of Conceptual art.” She has taught philosophy at Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and UCSD, and since 2005 has lived and worked in Berlin, where she runs the APRA Foundation Berlin and edits The Berlin Journal of Philosophy.

Photograph of Adrian Piper: Adrian Piper in OPEN ACCESS. Second Wave Feminism: Unfinished Business, 2014. Lecture/Discussion delivered at the National Academy of Art, Oslo. DVD. 01:49:41. Collection of the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin. APRA Foundation Berlin.

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