Kobena Mercer

  • Yinka Shonibare CBE, Leisure Lady (with Ocelots), 2001, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile, three fiberglass ocelots, fiberglass mannequin, leather, glass; mannequin: 63 × 31 1/2 × 31 1/2", ocelots: each 15 3/4 × 23 5/8 × 7 7/8".
    December 15, 2020

    “Yinka Shonibare CBE: End of Empire”

    Curated by Thorsten Sadowsky and Marijana Schneider

    Trained as a painter, Yinka Shonibare CBE made a game-changing move when he traded in canvas for Dutch wax-printed fabric. Richly patterned in vibrant colors, the textile is often believed to be inherently African, yet it was introduced by nineteenth-century Dutch colonists who mimicked Indonesian batik and exported the results to West and Central African markets. With more than sixty works that range from mannequins in Victorian costumes remade in the fabric to photographic tableaux featuring the artist as an Afro-Diasporic dandy, Shonibare’s

  • Jean Fisher, Wrexham, UK, 1967. Photo: Tony Fisher.

    Jean Fisher

    JEAN FISHER had a knack for getting under the skin of art. Describing herself as “an artist who practices writing on contemporary art,” she was drawn to work that sparked momentary crises of recognition—and that, in turn, opened up new sources of ethical and political agency. The glitches that can arise when communication breaks down, the opacities and blind spots in our experiences of cultural difference, were particularly generative for the artistic strategies illuminated in her writing and teaching.

    With a background in the life sciences, and having earned a degree in fine art from

  • Still from Andrea Geyer’s Comrades of Time (Elsa), 2010–11, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 39 seconds. One of seven HD videos from the installation Comrades of Time, 2010–11.


    TO MAP THE SHIFTING COORDINATES OF IDENTITY—and difference—in culture today, critic and art historian HUEY COPELAND moderates a roundtable with artist EMILY ROYSDON; film theorist KARA KEELING; Artforum’s editor, MICHELLE KUO; and some of the foremost thinkers on globalism, postcolonialism, and art: scholars DIPESH CHAKRABARTY, DAVID JOSELIT, and KOBENA MERCER.

    HUEY COPELAND: Is identity politics back? Did it ever truly go away? In either case, what does the term mean now and how do we think about the ways in which new understandings of identity are arising?

    One thing that characterizes this particular moment, I think, is the critical mass of artists and writers and critics and curators and viewers in and beyond the art world who are coming from positions that had previously been excluded, oppressed, or unacknowledged. But there is also, more broadly, a much greater awareness that’s been brought about by multiculturalism and identity politics, in all

  • Stuart Hall

    PERHAPS NO SCHOLAR in recent memory has become such a prominent public intellectual as Stuart Hall, yet his wide-ranging influence was due in large part to the way in which he embodied not one identity but several. After studying at University of Oxford, Hall cofounded the New Left Review, where his editorship cut through postwar consensus, contributing to the political ferment of the 1960s. As director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham for a decade beginning in the late ’60s, he played a leading role in developing cultural studies as a paradigm of

  • Fear of a Black Penis

    One of the police officers in the attack on Rodney King is called Sergeant Stacey Koon. With a name like that, maybe you might have a problem about “race” too. According to Koon, when King was approached by a white female Highway Patrol officer with a gun, “He grabbed his butt with both hands and began to shake and gyrate his fanny in a sexually suggestive fashion . . . As King sexually gyrated, a mixture of fear and offense overcame Melanie. The fear was of a Mandingo sexual encounter.”

    The Simi Valley verdict showed that denial, rather than guilt, remains one of the strongest psychic mechanisms


    The vexed question of “identity,” at the heart of so much talk and text these days, is symptomatic of a crisis in the psychic state of the nation. While the private lives of black men in the public eye—Magic Johnson, Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, Mike Tyson—have been exposed to glaring media visibility, it is the “invisible men” of the late capitalist underclass who have become the bearers—the signifiers—of the hopelessness and despair of our so-called post-Modern condition. Overrepresented in statistics on homicide and suicide, misrepresented in the media as the personification of drugs, disease,