Wilmer Wilson questions ethnic visibility in Black Mask video

Editor’s Note: Wilmer Wilson will speak at NOMA on Friday, October 4, at 6:30 pm, as part of Friday Nights at NOMA programming.

Wilmer Wilson is among the eleven artists represented in the exhibition Bodies of Knowledge, on view at NOMA from June 28 to October 13, 2019. In his short video Black Mask, completed in 2012, the artist slowly obscures his face with black Post-it notes, asking viewers to consider the paradoxical ways in which black bodies are both hyper-visible and at the same time erased from dominant histories and narratives. At the end of the video, the artist peels off all of the sticky notes, save one, envisioning how we might make more visible bodies that are often marked by absence.

The video is screened alongside a series of books from the artist’s more recent Running Tour performances, executed in iconic tourist destinations across the world such as Rome, Philadelphia, London, Brussels, Barcelona, and now, for this exhibition, New Orleans. Created as a subtle parody of a tourist guidebook, Wilson snaps photographs without halting his stride along routes that include well-known sightseeing spots as well as indistinct, ostensibly unremarkable locations. Filled with blurred, disorienting images, these books make tangible the tension between traditional forms of historic preservation and the lived experience of contemporary cities. Taken together, Black Mask and Wilson’s running tours present the body not as a vehicle for self-portraiture, but rather as a social site able to adapt to and shape the environment it inhabits, imagining how we might reconfigure the collective spaces, histories, and experiences of places such as New Orleans.