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September 10, 2020 – October 2, 2020

Adrian Piper Dance Lessons

Adrian Piper is a prolific artist, philosopher, and pioneer of conceptual art, who has profoundly shaped the field through her diversification of art practices and introduction of feminist, post-colonial, and black histories into conceptualist practices. Adrian Piper Dance Lessons features her Funk Lessons (1983) and Shiva Dances (2004)—two participatory group performances—through which Piper challenges racism and xenophobia, using art to generate social and political awareness. In the University of California, Berkeley iteration of Funk Lessons, Piper begins by teaching her largely white audience about funk. Originating in the mid-1960s with James Brown, funk music is a rhythm-driven fusion of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues. The genre quickly became a symbol of Black pride during the Civil Rights Movement for its celebration of African-inspired beats. Like many black cultural expressions, funk’s significance and contribution to American culture has been overlooked by a “hierarchy of cultures” (Frantz Fanon) that privileges white artistic production. By teaching her spectators about funk, Piper affirms its significance and at the same time provides her audience an opportunity to unlearn their racial and cultural biases and to embody the lessons of her lecture through dance. Similar to Funk Lessons, in Shiva Dances Piper is at once educator, dance teacher, and artist. In this Art Institute of Chicago performance, she grounds Shiva Dances with a projection of Funk Lessons, explicitly linking the two works in their structure and ambitions. Dance is often characterized by racist stereotypes about who can do specific types of moves. With dance at the root of her methodology, Piper demonstrates that the ability to dance is not a biologically given fact and that racist stereotypes and dance are both learned. Through a critically multi-layered and, at times, ironic approach, Piper homes in on racial issues without being confrontational. In her “Notes on Funk,” she explains, “My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance … was to enable everyone present to GET DOWN AND PARTY. TOGETHER.”

Planning for this exhibition began in the summer of 2019. Adrian Piper Dance Lessons’ presentation this fall provides an opportunity to consider the continued relevance of Piper’s work at a time marked by racial justice demonstrations across the world, Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd and police brutality, and a growing movement to end systemic racism. Watching Funk Lessons and Shiva Dances we confront individual biases and the perpetuation of racist systems, but we also learn the necessity of coming “TOGETHER” across differences to fight for a just and equitable future.

Lauren Walter, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History

This exhibition is second in the series “On View: Curatorial Studies,” which features art exhibitions curated by SA+AH graduate students.

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