Deconstructing African American Identity into Axioms, Photos, and Colors

Two things are true: Martine Syms likes both purple and words.


“Be warned: this is not an easy exhibition to understand and the layers cloud each other.”

As with her website and her publishing imprint Dominica, Syms’s exhibition Fact & Trouble at the Institute of Contemporary Arts is awash in the color purple: Royal purple C-stands, royal purple television monitors, and royal purple exhibition text. The color is weighted down with too many signifiers to list here but a few come to mind in viewing Syms’ work, including Caesar, United States military honors, and Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, which explores the lives and status of African American women in the 1930s South. With purple’s historic connotations of bravery and power, Syms recuperates the color and uses it as a signifier of female empowerment.

My artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including recent presentations at Karma International, Bridget Donahue Gallery, the New Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Index Stockholm, MOCA Los Angeles, MCA Chicago. I’ve lectured at Yale University, SXSW, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and MoMA PS1, among other venues. From 2007–11, I directed Golden Age, a project space focused on printed matter. I recently founded Dominica, a small press dedicated to nowhere shit.

Be warned: this is not an easy exhibition to understand and the layers cloud each other. Many works have literary undertones and without a required reading list, the material can feel opaque.

Posted by:Editor

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