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Contemporary Art

Artist to Watch: Martine Syms

LA-based artist Martine Syms (born 1988) is one of the most exciting artists emerging at this moment, speaking trenchantly for her generation as the first of the millennials. Her appropriation of found footage, combined with a sophisticated take on 21st century social media communication, give her a very distinct voice, full of humour and energy.  

Syms works in publishing, performance, video, essay and photography. Her juxtaposition of her own voice or appearance with found footage from the internet, film and TV – particularly black sitcoms – probes linguistic and visual representation of gender and African-Americans in the mass media.  

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MARTINE SYMS, STILL FROM A PILOT FOR A SHOW ABOUT NOWHERE, 2015.

Her video Pilot for a Show About Nowhere, 2015, for example, gives a pastiched history of African Americans’ depictions in television, incorporating footage from a number of sources, such as The Cosby Show. The “pilot” in question is an imagined sitcom by Syms called ‘She Mad’, with re-enactments of the artist’s life grounding it in her own biography. Black sitcoms in the United States hold a potential to undermine television conventions and can spark unpredictable and radical impulses. At the same time, they often erase the struggles and realities of the people they represent. Originally commissioned by the New Museum in New York, you can catch Pilot for a Show About Nowhere at Camden Arts Centre from 20 April 2017.  

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MARTINE SYMS, MADE IN LA EXHIBITION, 2016. PHOTOS BY BRIAN FORREST.

Despite a solo show at the ICA last year and a display at Sadie Coles HQ during CONDO, Martine Syms has not until now been represented in any UK public collection. The Contemporary Art Society has acquired Pilot for a Show About Nowhere for Leeds Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative. VNXXCAS encourages debate on the gender imbalance in museum collections by donating work of a living female artist to a UK museum each year. The video will form a centrepiece of a major collection redisplay at Leeds Gallery in autumn 2017 and will encourage new audiences to visit and explore the new displays in the museum’s renovated spaces. At the same time this significant work will push the discussion on gender-imbalance in collections further.  

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MARTINE SYMS, S1:E1 INSTALLATION, 2015 TRIENNIAL: SURROUND AUDIENCE NEW MUSEUM, 2015. PHOTO BY BENOIT PAILLEY.

Martine Syms’s recent exhibitions include the New Museum in New York (2015), the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2016) and a solo-show at the ICA, London (2016).  Her work is currently on view in the group shows Exhibition of 21 Artists Shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize 2017, Pinchuk Art Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine and Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 To Today, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Massachusetts. Forthcoming exhibitions include a solo-show opening at MoMA, New York, in May 2017 and she will also be part of the group exhibition 56 Artillery Lane at Raven Row, opening on 22 April 2017.

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