Profile: Sondra Perry (1986-)

Sondra Perry is an interdisciplinary artist who works with video, computer-based media, and performance. She explores themes of race, identity, family history, and technology.

Background

Sondra Perry received a BFA from Alfred University in 2012, and an MFA from Columbia University in 2015. Perry has had multiple solo exhibitions, including at The Kitchen, for her work “Resident Evil”, and at the Institute for New Connotative Action. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1 and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and online at Rhizome. Perry’s video work has been screened at Tribeca Cinemas in New York, Les Voutes in Paris, France, LuXun Academy of Fine Arts Museum in Shenyang, China, and at the LOOP Barcelona Media Arts Festival. From January to May 2017, Sondra Perry had a solo exhibition, flesh out, at Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center in Buffalo, New York.

Perry was awarded a 2017 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, and the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, which includes a solo show at the Seattle Art Museum and a $10,000 stipend.  She has also received the Worldstudio AIGA Scholarship and a scholarship from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, an artist residency in Maine. Perry is the first recipient of MOCA Cleveland´s Toby’s Prize, valued at $50,000. In 2018 Perry also won the $28,000 Nam June Paik Award given by the Kunststiftung NRW arts foundation to honor artists working in media art.

Perry is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University School of the Arts, where she teaches Advanced Video to both graduate and undergraduate students.

Work and Career

Perry’s work investigates “blackness, black femininity, African American heritage” and the portrayal or representation of black people throughout history, often centering on the way blackness influences technology and image-making. Perry explores the duality of intelligence and seductively in the contexts of black family heritage, black history, and black femininity. “Perry is committed to net neutrality and ideas of collective production and action, using open-source software to edit her work and leasing it digitally for use in galleries and classrooms, while also making all her videos available for free online. This principle of open access in Perry’s practice aims to privilege black life, to democratize access to art and culture, and to offer a critical platform that differentiates itself from the portrayal of blackness in the media”.

Black Girl as a Landscape (2010)

In Perry’s single-channel video installation, Black Girl as a Landscape, the camera slowly pans over the silhouette of a horizontally framed girl, abstracting her body. This is said to reflect Perry’s interest in how abstraction might create a dimensionality that connects an individual body with larger ecologies, both visual and environmental.

Red Summer (2010)

This photo series depicts Perry’s grandparents in their backyard obscured by smoke bombs. The photographs reflect the physical destruction seen in cities such as Washington and Chicago during the race riots of 1919, referred to as Red Summer.

Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera I (2013)

Exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera I showcases a 30-second loop of a man dancing in a white room looped over 9 minutes. The video was also featured in the Seattle Art Museum’s show Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, which toured at the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, after its Seattle debut.

42 Black Panther Balloons on 125th Street (2014)

With an eye for both the humorous and the political, Perry created 42 Black Panther Balloons on 125th Street, in which she carried a bunch of mylar black panther balloons around town. One still shows the balloons held on a street corner in such a way that it both obscures the person holding them and merges with them to become what is described as on the awkward and politically charged body. Some of the same kinds of balloons are used in her single-channel Youtube video, Black Panther Cam, of a smaller cluster of black panther mylar balloons floating in the artist’s studio.

Lineage for a Multiple Monitor Workstation: Number One (2015)

This 26 minute two-channel video depicts identity as a construction that can be explored through ritual. Perry developed this piece as a narrative about her family, and includes family memories that are edited between-song clips and computer effects.

Resident Evil (2016)

Exhibited at The Kitchen in New York, NY. The show featured the video netherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr 1.0.3 which juxtaposes images of the “blue screen of death” (which signifies a Windows operating system fatal error), law enforcement’s “blue wall of silence”, police raids, photos of black women who have died in the custody of police, Bill Gates dancing, and an avatar of Perry. The exhibit also featured Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation. The piece is an exercise bike with a triptych of screens attached. From the screens, Perry’s avatar tells the viewer of a scientific study in which those black people who believe the world is fair are more prone to chronic illnesses. Resident Evil is the titular video from the exhibit which examines the media’s take on blackness. There is footage of the 2015 riots after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. One of the protestors yells at Geraldo Rivera for covering the protests and not the circumstances of Freddie Gray’s death. Later on, Perry enters her family home with Eartha Kitt singing “I Want to Be Evil” on the television.

Eclogue For Inhabitability (2017)

In 2017 Perry won the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, for which she presented her solo exhibition Eclogue For Inhabitability at the Seattle Art Museum. The prize included this solo exhibition, as well as a $10,000 grant. This was the first time in the history of the prize that a video artist had been awarded.

Typhoon coming on (2018)

Perry exhibited a new soundscape at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery to accompany an adapted version of her piece Wet and Wavy Looks – Typhoon coming on (2016), inspired by JMW Turner’s painting of The Slave Ship. The video begins with an animated ocean which then transitions into a digitally adapted segment of Turner’s painting. The piece was created using the open-source animation software Blender.

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