Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities
Sept. 10 - Dec. 5, 2009
Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities was an original exhibition, which examined the social implications of race, gender, and disguise. Undercover considered the complicated practice of black women disguising themselves as well as the historic trend of others camouflaging themselves as black women. The exhibition includes painting, photographs, sculpture, video, and works on paper, that were created from 1926 to today. Featuring more than 75 works, Undercover investigated relevant topics such as self-portraiture, masquerade, cross-dressing, and blackface performance.
Undercover was based on the premise that people manipulate their outward appearance for a variety of reasons including: to alter their identity, to gain access that they would not otherwise have, to earn the trust of an individual or an organization, to deflect attention, to mimic, or to garner confidential information. While going undercover is popularly affiliated with law enforcement and espionage, in Undercover it was regarded as a critical strategy for artists to carry out or debunk cultural traditions, confront or reinforce stereotypes, explore fetishes, and challenge sociocultural norms.
Undercover included works by well-known artists including Lorraine O’Grady, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Doris Ulmann, and James VanDerZee. It also introduced promising emerging and midcareer artists such as Renée Cox, Lalla Essaydi, Ellen Gallagher, Myra Greene, Lyle Ashton Harris, Lauren Kelley, Kalup Linzy, Nandipha Mntambo, Magdalene Odundo, Berni Searle, and many others. Countless exhibitions have examined identity and race. Undercover, however, explored broader perspectives about Black women and disguise for the first time and approaches the theme of identity anew.
Undercover was organized by the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and curated by Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., director of the Museum, and Karen Comer Lowe, director of Comer Art Advisory, LLC.