At the 56th annual Venice Biennale, artist Adam Pendleton lined the walls of the Belgian Pavilion with a set of black-and-white paintings and large-scale vinyl text-based works that simply read "Black Lives Matter." It is the artist's way of proclaiming to the world that the Internet driven movement—that started in 2012, following the death of Trayvon Martin—is not representative of a unique moment, but a movement that seeks to highlight a history of violence against black Americans. “Black Lives Matter, and the political situation that it has raised awareness of, has been around for a long time,” explains Pendleton. “The political dynamic isn’t new. What’s new is the language that is at once a public mourning, a rallying cry, and a poetic plea.”
The artist's textual mixed-media installation appears spray painted on the walls of the exhibition space, seeking to link the language of past movements to the present day. For Pendleton the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and the “Black Power” rhetoric of the 1970s have a lot in common. “I wanted to bring the language of ‘Black Lives Matter’ into conversation with other political and art historical movements. I wanted to complicate an easy read of the language by bringing it into an artistic or conceptual space,” he explains to The Creators Project.
Pendleton, in making mixed-media works that seeks to visually explore the demands of the movement, also seeks to incorporate the three words that define the movement into a larger practice he calls “Black Dada.” "I am asking this language of 'Black Lives Matter' to exist in relationship to other ideas and language that has been occupying space within my body of work,” he explains. “The language I am referring to specifically is Black Dada. Black as something that functions as a conceptual idea, as an open-ended signifier, and dada of course referring to a radical movement in art where artists, too, were responding to a social political dynamic. Black Dada is something I have thinking about publicly, often through textual or visual means.”
Ultimately, Pendleton thinks that his work can help facilitate a conversation about the questions the Black Lives Matter Movement seeks to address. “I think that art can be a productive mechanism to grapple with difficult questions that the popular imagination, in its desire to be concrete and specific, can have trouble arriving at,” says Pendleton. “Art is a grey space where two things can exist at once—art is a mechanism to complicate our social and political spaces.”
The 56th annual Venice Biennale runs through November 22nd. Click here for more information.