The historical work of Howardena Pindell is an excellent addition to the walls of Fruitmarket in Edinburgh. As her first solo exhibition in a public organisation in the UK, this exhibition displays Pindell’s work from the 1970s to the present day. Pindell is an established artist, curator, teacher and activist – born in 1943 in Philadelphia and hired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York as an exhibition assistant in 1967. Pindell teaches at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island.
Most striking about this exhibition is the extensiveness of its concerns. Pindell works across various themes related to police violence, the AIDs crisis, and environmental degradation. However, this does not diminish the attention given to each piece, as each work draws the viewer into a recurring cycle of thoughts and emotions.
The lower gallery features a series of Pindell’s abstracted works – created using acrylic spray paint and circular stencils. Pindell explains in an Artist Talk with Fruitmarket that her interest in circles originated from her childhood: at a root beer stand with her father, he explained that the red circle at the bottom of their mugs denoted that they were segregated utensils. Then, the use of the circle is not figurative but instead a representative shape of her memory.
The exhibition’s title, ‘A New Language’, is indicative of the contents of the show, which uses both language and visuality to comment on its themes. For example, works such as ‘Diallo’ (2000) employ the language of police violence. The words ‘execution’, ‘entrapment’, ‘acquitted’, and the names of two gun violence victims, Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, are applied across the canvas. The result is an evocative piece that communicates the horror of gun violence and its ramifications through a combination of textual and visual imagery.
Pindell’s current role as an educator is evident throughout the exhibition, especially within her video work ‘White and 21’ (1980), which serves as a teaching reference to the audience. Pindell utilises education as a reflective tool within her practice to address complex issues and avoid visual romanticization to deter the simplification of the crises she attends.
Overall, ‘A New Language’ draws attention to the specific concerns of Pindell and her life and memory, but her visual language also extends her concerns to a global audience. The issues of racism, police violence, environmental degradation, and colonialism are widespread across the globe. Nevertheless, whilst its subject matter is globally relevant, ‘A New Language’ is especially pertinent to its surroundings in Edinburgh, which has experienced its own issues of racism and accompanying resistance, such as the renaming of the David Hume Tower, due to Hume’s association with the institutionalisation of slavery. It is a common misconception within the United Kingdom that racism and police violence are far worse in America. However, this belief hides from the fact that the UK has faced remarkably similar issues. Pindell’s exhibition is worth seeing for anyone interested in combatting racial matters within their communities.