The 77-year-old talks about her latest work and a career in a world where ‘people didn’t want to talk about racism’
When New York artist Howardena Pindell released her video artwork Free, White and 21 in 1980, it caused an uproar.
In the video, she talks about her own experiences of racism throughout her life – then creates a rebuttal character in whiteface, who downplays the trauma of racism. “You really must be paranoid,” says the character. “That has never happened to me or anyone I know, but they are free, white and 21.”
Looking back at the artwork 40 years later, Pindell says people were shocked. “The general reaction was pretty hostile,” the artist told the Guardian. “Dealing with the black body back then? Forget it. People didn’t want to talk about racism.”
It’s a seminal piece of American contemporary art, and is key to understanding the 77-year-old artist’s legacy when walking into her new solo exhibition, Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water, which recently opened at The Shed in New York. It features over 15 pieces from wall works to videos, that span the breadth of the artist’s 60-year career, which runs until 11 April 2021.
Image: Four Little Girls, 202
© Howardena Pindell
Courtesy the artist, Garth Greenan Gallery and Victoria Miro