We started out with beliefs about the world and our place in it that we didn’t ask for and didn’t question. Only later, when those beliefs were attacked by new experiences that didn’t conform to them, did we begin to doubt: e.g., do we and our friends really understand each other? Do we really have nothing in common with blacks/whites/gays/workers/the middle class/other women/other men/etc.?–Adrian Piper, 1981
Adrian Piper is an important figure in the early development of Conceptual Art in the 1960s and is one of the few African Americans involved in that movement. Her multidisciplinary work–which has included photography, performance, drawing, video, and sound installation–often combines text with image or ephemeral performance with physical documentation. She has had a profound impact on a number of artists in the ensuing decades, including Glenn Ligon, Jenny Holzer, Howardena Pindell, and Lorna Simpson.
Beginning in the 1970s, Piper’s work began to incorporate issues of identity while maintaining a strong conceptual basis. As a black woman often mistaken for white, she sought to engage her audience with racism and sexism by working from an autobiographical catalogue of experiences. The Mythic Being series (1972-1975) was developed by Piper while she was a doctoral student in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. She developed a male alter ego, and by performing in this guise found a release from the intense pressures and tensions of being the only black woman in her department. Through this series, she challenges the viewer to be actively aware of, and perhaps struggle with, the phenomenon of xenophobia and racial stereotyping in 1970s America.