Martine Syms: An Evening with Queen White

July 14, 2018December 2, 2018

An Evening with Queen White (2017) is a mixed-media installation by Martine Syms (1988, Los Angeles, CA) that includes, 99 Subtle Maneuvers (2018), a new large-scale wallpaper work designed specifically for moCa, and a four-channel video displayed across three monitors and a projection screen. In this installation, Syms casts actress Fay Victor in the role of Queen White, a protagonist modeled after Syms’ great-aunt, godmother, and the famed Motown Records etiquette coach and director of ‘personal development’ Maxine Powell (1915-2013). For multiple generations of Motown, many African American, Powell was a guiding force, shaping the personas and styles of countless performers. Filmed in a single long take, using a centrally located 360-degree camera rig, Fay moves freely throughout a set modeled after a 1960s Motown recording studio. She is continuously captured by the camera, making the four-channel video an environmental experience.

An Evening with Queen White exemplifies Syms’s use of the monologue as a medium for exploring how voice, gesture, and persona are learned and performed. As the script complicates the artist’s own biography, it highlights how strategies of “performing oneself” as an African-American woman in America are transmitted and crystallized across generations through both familial teaching and societal conditioning. Similarly, 99 Subtle Maneuvers (2018) includes a list of written personal instructions interrupted by large archival photographs of the artist and her family, and new photographs printed over found movie posters, emphasizing the dialogue between personal and collective negotiations of identity. 


Generous support for moCa Cleveland’s presentation of Martine Syms: An Evening with Queen White and correlating programs is provided by The City of Cleveland’s Cable Television Minority Arts & Education Fund of the Cleveland Foundation. Additional support provided by Sadie Coles HQ, and the Anselm Talalay Photography Endowment. Sherwin-Williams is the official paint of moCa Cleveland. All current exhibitions are funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Leadership Circle gifts from anonymous donors, Yuval Brisker, Joanne Cohen and Morris Wheeler, Margaret Cohen and Kevin Rahilly, Becky Dunn, Harriet Goldberg, Agnes Gund, Michelle and Richard Jeschelnig, Donna and Stewart Kohl, Jan Lewis, Toby Devan Lewis, and Scott Mueller. All moCa Cleveland exhibitions are supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the continuing support of the Museum’s Board of Directors, patrons, and members.