Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation, the first major retrospective on the work of groundbreaking video/performance artist Ulysses Jenkins, is on view now at ICA Philadelphia through December 30, 2021. The exhibition is co-curated by Meg Onli, ICA Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator, and Erin Christovale, Associate Curator, Hammer Museum at UCLA, where the exhibition will travel this winter, from February 6 through May 15, 2022.
For the past 50 years, Ulysses Jenkins has produced video and media work on how images, sound, and cultural iconography inform representation. Using archival footage, photographs, image processing, and elegiac soundtracks, he pulls together various strands of thought to interrogate questions of race and gender as they relate to ritual, history, and the power of the state.
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Beginning as a painter and muralist in 1970s Los Angeles, Jenkins was introduced to video just as the first consumer cameras were becoming available. He quickly seized upon television technology as a means to broadcast alternative and critical depictions of multiculturalism, citing as a catalyst Melvin Van Peebles’s 1971 blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and its call to Black filmmakers to control their subjecthood by taking charge of the media depicting them.
Requiring three years of intensive research by the curators — including studio visits, the digitization of a sprawling archive, conversations with the artist and his associates — and closely organized with the artist, Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation encompasses over 20 of Jenkins’s videos and more than 60 works showcasing the scope of his practice, ranging from his collaborations and mural paintings to photography and performances. Among the many video art pieces included in the exhibition is “Mass of Images” (1978), considered one of the first works in the genre by a Black artist.
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Major support for Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation has been provided by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.