Skip to main content
No AccessNew Perspective

Adrian Piper as African American Artist

African‐American artist Adrian Piper has repeatedly staged her own racial transformation in order to unsettle the racist attitudes of her artworks’ American viewers. Piper looks white but in her video installation Cornered, for example, she tells viewers, ”I’m black.” Over the course of the video the decision to call one’s self black or white becomes a moral issue rather than a simple matter of genetics or parentage. In the process, Piper casts the possibility of racial identity into doubt.

Piper’s self‐transformations figure the fears and fantasies that define the myth of American whiteness. Citing the unspoken ”one drop” rule of racialized identity—according to which a person with only ”one drop” of African blood running through his or her veins is considered black—Piper challenges the viewer of Cornered: ”You are probably black. … What are you going to do?” Piper stages herself as an object for inspection, but in a way that ultimately reveals less about the artist than about the viewer’s own attitudes towards race. She identifies miscegenation and folkloric accounts of passing as the founding crisis for a pseudoscientific race consciousness in order to challenge Americans to take personal responsibility for the history of racism in the United States.