The New York-based collective The Yams has withdrawn its work from a Whitney Biennial screening this weekend over the inclusion in the Biennial of a provocative project by Joe Scanlan.
Scanlan, 52, a New York-based visual artist who has served on the faculty at Princeton and Yale, often exhibits work under the pseudonym Donelle Woolford, a fictitious female black artist and Yale graduate. He also hires various black actresses to play Woolford and perform a vintage Richard Pryor standup routine. Performances have taken place at New York venue The Kitchen as part of the Biennial.
The withdrawal of the collective, participating in the Biennial under the name HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, was first reported by the Brooklyn-based blog Hyperallergic.
"We felt that the representation of an established academic white man posing as a privileged African-American woman is problematic, even if he tries to hide it in an avatar's mystique," Yams member Maureen Catbagan told Hyperallergic. "It kind of negates our presence there, our collaborative identity as representing the African diaspora."
"Good Stock On The Dimension Floor: An Opera, 2014" by HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? was screened Mar. 7-Mar. 9, during the Biennial's opening weekend. The exhibition is on view through May 25.
HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? was included in the Biennial at the invitation of Chicago-based artist/curator Michelle Grabner.
"Given their profound discomfort with Donelle Woolford's participation in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, I respect the decision of HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? to pull their piece from the exhibition's film/video program," Grabner said in a statement to A.i.A. today. "I am pleased that we had the opportunity to present their video several times during the opening week of the Biennial and I look forward to seeing more work from the group in the future."