Busted TVs Conjure Broken African American Stereotypes

TV-shaped rainbow portals offer a path to new perspectives at Derrick Adams' solo show, 'ON.'

by Beckett Mufson
Jun 14 2016, 3:55pm

Images courtesy Pioneer Works. Photos by Andy Romer

The familiar rainbow bars of the SMPTE test card are everywhere at Derrick Adams' solo show of new work at Pioneer Works, ON. Conceived in the 70s, the test let technicians ensure a television set was working properly, and likewise Adams' massive multimedia wall hangings examine our culture's damaging stereotypes, specifically on TV.

Framed by simple outlines of old television sets, Adams builds on his LIVE and IN COLOR series in the Red Hook warehouse's massive main space by remixing the spectrum of colored bars with patterned cloth. The patterns evoke the African textile industry, fraught with both imperialism and cultural appropriation, and in some cases were cut right from dashikis. These large-scale pieces hang on walls painted with SMPTE bars, which on opening night acted as backdrop for performances by 13 of the Baltimore-raised, Crown Heights-based artist's friends. A recording of the show, which evokes Adams' familiar 80s and 90s TV icons, will join the show until it ends on July 17, further twisting the motif of screens, portals, and characters ON presents.

The two smaller galleries explore different facets of the commodification of black bodies. Nine lamps, dressed in colorful wooden shapes, wear wigs braided with West African hairstyles as lampshades in a room covered in Adams' new collages, Network Constellations. In the next space over, an array of nightlights illuminates a collage of 90s dial-in psychic, Miss Cleo, but instead of tarot readings, the space is filled with the low buzz of a broadcast signal. These two bodies of work provide an escape from the scale of the main area, allowing for more introspective reflections on the past, present, and future of black representation in the media.

The one-two punch of drama and color is a sharp contrast to the industrial brick-colored neighborhood surrounding Pioneer Works. Entering ON is like descending deep into a dream, and leaving it is like waking up, but luckily the events don't fade from memory, and instead reignite in the brain with every mention of appropriation, black objectification, and consumerism—and every SMPTE test rainbow.

Derrick Adams' ON will be at Pioneer Works through July 17. See more of his work on his website.


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Red Hook
Cultural Appropriation
Pioneer Works
textile art
Derrick Adams
black bodies