Los Angeles–based artist Martine Syms examines representations of blackness and its relationship to mainstream culture, feminist thought, and radical political and artistic traditions. The artist’s first feature-length film, Incense, Sweaters, and Ice, is the latest installment in the New Media Series.
The film follows the central character, Girl, played by St. Louis–based artist Katherine Simóne Reynolds, as she gets ready to go out, waits, kills time, reads, and flirts. This character and the other principals—Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White and WB (also called Whiteboy)—pass through phases of watching, being watched, and remaining unseen. Carefully directed camera movements foreground the camera as another character, reminding viewers of how mundane experiences are influenced by surveillance and media. Filmed in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Clarksdale, Mississippi—cities that figured in the Great Migration—Incense, Sweaters, and Ice echoes multigenerational experiences of the reality and perception of blackness in the United States.
This work explores the importance of performance as a strategy to examine the power of gestures, imposed identities, and embedded assumptions around gender and racial inequalities, endowing simple moments with compelling political resonances.
New Media Series—Martine Syms is curated by Hannah Klemm, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, with Molly Moog, research assistant. Incense, Sweaters, and Ice has a running time of one hour and 9 minutes.