Ulysses Jenkins, a Daring Video Artist, Expanded Ideas of Blackness

Ulysses Jenkins, "Just Another Rendering of the Same Old Problem" (1979), performance at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles (image courtesy the artist, photo by Nancy Buchanan)


LOS ANGELES — “You’re just a mass of images you’ve gotten to know / From years and years of TV shows / The hurting thing, the hidden pain / Was written and bitten into your veins,” chants artist Ulysses Jenkins in his 1978 video performance, “Mass of Images.” Considered to be one of the first video works by a Black American artist, Jenkins appears in the piece, a lanky figure dressed in a plastic mask, dark sunglasses, and an American flag scarf. On a stage, he is joined by a towering stack of televisions. This scene is intercut with examples of racist imagery from American films and TV, including white actors donning blackface and shallow caricatures of Black life. The video ends with him wielding a sledgehammer in an attempt to smash the televisions to smithereens. But he stalls, unable to swing. “They won’t let me.” He turns his attention to the camera and repeats his refrain, a final reminder to the viewer before the screen goes dark.


Learn more about the exhibition Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation at the Hammer Museum, on view Feb. 6-May 15, 2022.

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