M. Lamar Is Destroying and Keeping It Real

The multimedia artist's new show premieres at American Realness Festival.
January 12, 2016

M. Lamar has been known to snatch a wig off U.S. history, unflinchingly exploring the toxic legacies of colonization and the slave trade. His new show, Destruction, which begins January 13 as part of the American Realness Festival at the Abrons Arts Center, is sure to further probe and provoke audiences.

When it comes to summing up the visual performance artist, the list of adjectives is a lengthy one. “I call myself a negro-gothic, devil-worshipping free black man in the blues tradition,” says the opera-trained singer, borrowing from the words of the esteemed Cornell West. But unlike West and everyone else in he and sister Laverne Cox’s native town of Mobile, Ala., holiness is not on Lamar's list of priorities; telling the truth, however, is. That’s because his works confront race and its complicated history in America. “I’m trying to sort of make space in the world for myself as a person, and I think that is a viable project when there’s no map for you in terms of your identity… I love the idea of what it means to be an emancipated person,” he says.

Lamar’s art may not be easy to categorize, but doing so isn’t necessary. Sonically hypnotizing and visually assaulting, the singer’s melodies and arresting imagery make you simultaneously uncomfortable and curious. Have a look through Lamar’s videos online: In “Surveillance Punishment and the Black Psyche” you’ll see him as a ghost/reaper/slave in a hooded cloak, picking cotton and penetrating a trio of men on all fours with the handle end of a whip. To call this provocative is damn near reductive. “I think that sexuality is always an interesting place to start in terms of desire and how desire works because there’s so much truth in that,” Lamar explains.

While Lamar’s previous works recount a devastating history, his latest performance looks forward and imagine a future. “At the core of this new show is the question of how do you deal with the unexplainable griefs that would happen if your 12-year-old child was killed by a police officer or your 17-year-old child was killed by a police officer or if you existed during the time of lynching. What do we do with that grief?"

Destruction, January 13–16 at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (Pitt/Willett Sts); $20. Visit americanrealness.com for more info.