The Body Politic: Video from The Met Collection presents four works created between 1995 and 2016: David Hammons's Phat Free (1995), Arthur Jafa's Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016), Steve McQueen's Five Easy Pieces (1995), and Mika Rottenberg's NoNoseKnows (2015). Alternately provocative, poignant, and absurdist, all of them explore the relationships among power, performance, and moving images. Here, the role of the camera is paramount. Besides a mediating agent and a framing device, the camera also serves as a witness, representing acts of injustice as well as moments of rebellion.
The exhibition title functions in two ways. Historically, "body politic" has been used to describe a community comprising disparate individuals. According to this analogy, responsibility for the overall health of the body politic is shared equally among citizens, just as the fate of any one part has ramifications for the whole. Today, the phrase connotes more generally the politics of the body—that is, the way individual bodies not only suffer political violence but also wield political authority, especially as it has bearing on their race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Each of these meanings is relevant to the works featured in The Body Politic.
Concurrent with The Body Politic is an eight-week summer series called Theater of the Resist. Organized by MetLiveArts, the series features pointedly political films, dances, and performances as well as music and spoken-word poetry. Read an article on the MetLiveArts Blog in which an artist assistant reflects on the series and the profound group of artists assembled.
Steve McQueen (British, born 1969). Five Easy Pieces, 1995. Single channel digital video, transferred from 16mm film, black-and-white, silent, 7 min., 4 sec. Jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchased with the Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2016, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, purchased with the assistance of Peter Ross and the David Yuile and Mary Elizabeth Hodgson Fund, 2016 (2016.447). © Steve McQueen. All rights reserved. Image courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery