Los Angeles-based artist Edgar Arceneaux’s work spans across mediums—blending theater, literature, and fine art to create dynamic works that explore history and histories forgotten. Primarily focused on urban conflict and racial strife, often located in Detroit, Arceneaux’s work avoids easy classification.
Perhaps the most well-known piece from Arceneaux is his performance piece “Until, Until, Until…” which re-tells a misunderstood moment in history. At the 1981 inauguration gala of Ronald Reagan, African-American performer Ben Vereen presented an ode to Bert Williams, a vaudeville entertainer who had to perform in blackface to shield his own blackness from white audiences.
In Vereen’s ’81 ode, the critique of this unjust time in entertainment history, was misunderstood by American television audiences as the second half of the performance, which explained the historical context, was cut for time. Performed at events such as Performa and Festival de Cannes in 2017, the piece attempts to right this historical wrong. Arceneaux asks: who reviews our history? Who can restore histories?
It’s a theme central to the artist’s entire body of work. “Orpheum Returns- Fires Creation” features antique books, cast with crystal sugar and glass, displaying an historic authority while being made completely illegible. Pieces such as “Peaks Above The Headlines” pictures monumental mountains, with historical newspaper covers from the Los Angeles Times reading “Detroit Strife: Troops Lose, Then Regain Control”. Arceneaux’s poignant work questions the way we view our history—how it lives long past ourselves and ripples in ways we may not today understand.
All images by Edgar Arceneaux, “Until, Until, Until…,” Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects Solo Exhibition, May 27 – July 1, 2017. Installation view courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer.