In a jaw-dropping show that includes ghostly abstract canvases and horrifying historical videos, Pindell’s majestic works come together to tell the story of America’s blood-soaked past. By Jonathan Jones
Everything that’s beautiful about American art is in Howardena Pindell’s abstract canvases from the 1970s. And all that is ugly in America is laid bare by her 2020 video Rope/Fire/Water.
Kettle’s Yard made me read the warning text before seeing Rope/Fire/Water, about its graphic content and the “self-care” it may necessitate. It is a short history of lynchings in America. There are some truly terrible images including early 20th-century postcards that celebrate the murders by burning alive, hanging and drowning of Black Americans by mobs of whites. Pindell reads from history books over the images. The slayings she mourns include that of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963 – also remembered in Bob Dylan’s song Only a Pawn in Their Game – and the recent rising death toll that has given birth to Black Lives Matter.
Image: Howardena Pindell, still from Rope/Fire/Water, 2020