Review by Monika Burton Pangilinan
Echoes of distorted screams fill the vicious ocean as it swirls and pulsates through the walls. As you walk through Sondra Perry’s “Typhoon Coming On”, you will find yourself submerged in the thick, tar-like sea of Perry’s digital manipulations projected on the walls of the Serpentine Gallery. Its purple waves morph into JMW Turner’s 1840 seascape Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and the Dying – Typhoon Coming On.
Turner’s painting depicts a horrifying scene of 133 black slaves drowned by the British captain, Zong, as compensation for cargo insurance money. The fiery sky of red and gold blazed over the shark infested waters where bodies were struggling, bobbing, and flailing helplessly as they gasped for air. Perry’s video manipulation may not feature the macabre aspects of sinking bodies or flailing limbs, but the vivid use of color and sounds alone create an eerie and frightening experience. Her installation swallows its viewers into the staggering waves of massacre and mayhem in colonial history.
With her first solo exhibition in London, African American artist Sondra Perry explores the multifaceted narratives of black history. Her works often revolve around the black American experience and the way in which identity and technology are intermingled.
“I’m interested in how blackness is a technology, changing and adapting, through the constant surveillance and oppression of black folks across the diaspora since the 1600s. Unmediated seeing isn’t a thing”. (Source: Mousse Magazine)
In one of the central spaces is an interactive installation where a water resistance rowing machine is hooked to 3 monitors displaying the same purple waves Wet and Wavy. As visitors take part in this mechanism, they are confronted with the loud sound of chimes and distorted voices, as if sailing for their lives under the typhoon of oppression.
In another space is Skin Wall, a backdrop that featured a distorted animation of Perry’s skin. In front of this installation was a monitor that featured Resident Evil, an audio-visual collage of police brutality footage from victims and protesters, juxtaposed with excerpts from Fox News. The video is interrupted by Eartha Kitt singing “I Want to Be Evil”, an ironic deconstruction of discrimination and racial prejudice today. Viewers may find themselves feeling uneasy as they watched recordings of protests and night arrests, from Black Lives Matter to the Geraldo Show, when suddenly the video ends with mindless, defective TV commercials.
Perry confronts its viewers with the reality that blood shed from colonial days continue to stain the oppressed of present day. An incalculable proportion of Western culture and wealth has been built on centuries of black deaths, and Perry’s installation confronts its viewers to recognize this history of pain and oppression. With our media saturated lives, we tend to change the channel from the unpleasant and the guilt – but no matter how much we look away, Turner’s seas are still crashing, and the typhoon coming on.