In Steffani Jemison’s 2010–11 video, Escaped Lunatic, a steady stream of black figures run across the screen, sprinting, jumping, and rolling through the streets of Houston. The work is part of a trilogy that borrows its narrative structure from early-20th-century cinema. Here, the work makes use of the chase genre, which often depicted African Americans in scenes of flight from various forms of authority. Jemison, who shot the video with a Houston-based parkour team while she was living in that city, links a structure borrowed from early cinema to a contemporary scene, boldly linking the unjust conditions of urban life and representation of black folks across time. As the figures move quickly across the screen, they become symbols of fugitivity—figures of escape that historically mark black life.
Escaped Lunatic. 2010–11. Video (color, sound), 7:41 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2016 Steffani Jemison
This is part of an ongoing series that makes film and video works from MoMA’s collection available online.