In the Vanilla Nightmares series, Piper worked directly on pages taken from the New York Times, overlaying articles and advertisements with charcoal and crayon drawings that interact with the newspaper’s images and words. The artist’s enigmatic images suggest European American fears and fantasies about African Americans and in their contrast with the newspaper’s content provoke viewers into recognizing those fears.
Here Piper began with a sheet featuring a large Bloomingdale’s advertisement promoting a new clothing collection; above it run brief news items describing the genocide in Sri Lanka, the resignation of the head of Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, and the abduction of two people in the Philippines. On either side of the advertisement’s model, Piper added a man and a woman who appear to be restraining her arms; she gave the model breasts and a defined pubic area, transforming the clothed figure into a nude, along with a mask, collar, and leash. The additions both obscure the model’s identity and reveal her nudity, simultaneously sexualizing her and leaving her vulnerable. Like many of Piper’s works, the Vanilla Nightmares series scrutinizes issues of race and how they are perceived, here by literally bringing hidden biases to the surface—what Piper has called “the subauthoritarian news that’s not fit to print.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
The Vanilla Nightmares works, drawn in charcoal on articles and advertisements in the New York Times, depict European-American fantasies and fears about African Americans in enigmatic, overpowering, or sexual images that interact with the newspaper’s images and words. In one, an article titled “Black Doctors Told to Screen Patients for Violent Feelings” is integrated into the figure of a black man who seems to be trapped in the drawing’s—and the newspaper’s—two-dimensional plane; in another the figure of an African or African-American man who has been integrated into a safari-themed fashion advertisement grasps the European-American model on the back of her neck and looks directly
at the viewer. The drawings suggest the racial fears and biases of a culturally liberal publication, literally bringing them
to the surface; they show, as Piper has written, “the subauthoritarian news that’s not fit to print.”
Publication excerpt from Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016, 2018