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Pretending to Be Rock: Sherman Fleming’s Iconic Performance Art

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In anticipation of their upcoming performance of his seminal work, In Pretending to Be Rock, DC based artists Maps Glover and Holly Bass chat with legendary performing artist Sherman Fleming. Sherman (aka RODFORCE) has been actively involved in performance art since the 1970s. In the mid-1980s he abandoned his alias, feeling that its allusions to historic stereotypes about black male sexuality and virility had run their course. His work often explores the body’s expressive power and the limits of endurance, confronting issues of black masculinity and the psychosexual tensions surrounding the black male body.

In Pretending to Be Rock (1993), the artist, positioned on his hands and knees, surrendered his seminude body to the dripping of hot wax, which fell from a makeshift candelabra holding dozens of burning candles above him. Meanwhile, a female collaborator, suspended just beyond him, was subjected to a deluge of cold water over the same period of time. Impressed by their display of physical stamina, audiences sat for up to two hours before Fleming relented in exhaustion and his female collaborator was lowered and released from her harness. In using his back as the site of trauma, Fleming evoked the iconic image of the former slave Gordon, who escaped to the Union Army and whose scars told the traumatic story of chattel slavery. Fleming’s gesture of surrendering to pain may be seen as a metaphor for the process in which scarring might lead to an accelerated re-framing of consciousness.

DC based artists Holly Bass and Maps Glover will be performing this piece at the DC Arts Center on June 20th. For more information click here.

by jinslee June 20, 2019