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Adrian Piper

American Performance Artist, Installation Artist, and Photographer

Adrian Piper Photo

Born: September 20, 1948 - New York City, New York

"It seemed that the more clearly and abstractly I learned to think, the more clearly I was able to hear my gut telling me what I needed to do, and the more pressing it became to do it."

Summary of Adrian Piper

Who are you? How do others see you and how do you define your own identity? These are the key questions at the heart of Adrian Piper's practice. Rising to prominence as a pioneering Conceptual, Minimalist and Feminist artist in the New York art scene during the early 1970s, Piper's work raises often uncomfortable questions about racial politics and identity, engages in social critique, and deploys concepts from her parallel career as a philosopher.

Her work is often provocative, and asks her audience to confront truths about themselves and the society they live in. This practice has included performances and street interventions, paintings and sculpture, and events and objects less easily defined by conventional art historical terms. She works across disciplines, forms and conceptual frameworks, positioning her practice as a single endeavour of multiple parts.

Key Ideas

Piper's political convictions and strategies are often communicated through an engagement with autobiography and/or everyday life, a strategy which speaks to her interest in philosophical notions of the self. Her experiences with LSD as a young artist, instances of everyday racism and institutional marginalisation, and personal tragedy have all formed the basis of a different suite of works or series of performances.
Her work most often asks questions about identity and self, perhaps most notably around the question of race. By drawing on her experience as a person of mixed racial heritage her work interrogates the assumptions made about identity as it relates to skin color, revealing the underlying racism and hypocrisy of Western society, particularly in the United States.
As a female artist and scholar, Piper's work often also interrogates her experiences of sexism and misogyny. This provided an inspiration for a slightly later generation of independent and multi-disciplinary female artists (including Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman), a legacy that has only recently come to be acknowledged as significant in the development of this kind of work.
Piper's work and personal life are blurred, and she maintains a commitment to the significance of symbolic action in her interactions with artistic and educational institutions, authority figures and governments. Perhaps most indicative of this conviction is her insistence that she would not return to the United States after some time abroad until her name had been removed from the "watch list" of potentially subversive passengers.
Piper is committed to working across multiple disciplines and areas of scholarship. She maintains her artistic practice alongside a career as an academic within the subject area of philosophy, and sees the two roles as informing each other. Her foundation (The Adrian Piper Research Archive) works to support other interdisciplinary scholars who might similarly struggle to balance two concurrent and interrelated careers.
Adrian Piper Photo

Adrian Piper was born in New York City in 1948 and grew up in a middle-class home in Washington Heights, near the Harlem area of Manhattan. Her father, Daniel Robert Piper, was a lawyer and her mother an administrator in the English Department of the Open Admissions Program at the City College of New York. Piper describes her racial background as 'mixed, like all Americans'. She talks of her father as having a mixed heritage derived from white and light-skinned black property owners, and of her mother as descending from planter-class Jamaican immigrants. This created a complex genealogy she describes as, "1/32 Malagasy (Madagascar), 1/32 African of unknown origin, 1/16 Igbo (Nigeria), and 1/8 East Indian (Chittagong, India [now Bangladesh]), in addition to having predominantly British and German family ancestry". Piper remembers her upbringing as warm and nurturing, writing, "(I) grew up physically inviolate, unable even to imagine the possibility of a breach to my physical integrity." As an adult, Piper credited her unflinching self-confidence in the face of racist and sexist marginalization to this solid grounding, firmly stating: "I do not need your help. I was loved."

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