Lorna Simpson’s work body of multi-media work is so diverse it’s too hard to single out just one work for discussion, but I’m picking a piece she created in 2016 that I recently saw at the Tate Modern. Then and Now is an appropriated photo from the Detroit riots of 1967—a screen-printed tableau that’s split into multiple panels which have been blurred into abstraction in a process that resembles grungy, burned film.
The clear top center image of the riots features riot police in the foreground lining the bottom of the image and their presence casts a foreboding shadow of powerlessness over the crowd of protesters. The riots of 1967 mirrored the racial, social and economic conditions that led to rebellions in Watts, Chicago, Newark and countless other U.S. cities in the 1960s, with the common catalyst among them being unchecked police brutality and the specter of police intimidation. Simpson’s work was created in 2016, a period marked by rebellions in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and Berkeley between 2014 and 2015 that mirror the riots that took place 50 years prior.
While at the Tate I experienced Simpson’s piece in conversation with an abstract collage of decommissioned fire hoses by Theaster Gates called Civil Tapestry. These works serve as requisite reminders of how inequality is woven into our nation’s fabric and that rejection to our resistance to inequality, in all forms, comes at a violent price.
In a video interview that featured this work in Simpson’s studio, the artist responded to questions about her representation of black content, and her response resonated with me:
“When I get up in the morning and I look in the mirror, I don’t look at black content, I look at myself. I should be given the freedom of the universality of who I choose to be in my work or how I choose to present it as it also being a universal form.”
Simpson has recently embarked on a renewed exploration in painting and I cannot wait to see how her artistic process evolves as a result of this pivot in medium. Hauser & Wirth London will showcase this new work in a show debuting in March called Unanswerable. The exhibition will feature her new paintings in addition to a new series of collaged photographic works and sculpture. Within this body of new work, there’s a frozen, glacial, ice motif running through it that connects the new works to some of her older themes. I can’t wait to learn more about it in the months to come.