Urgent Museum Notice

Xaviera Simmons: “How might our entire history have been different…?”

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Xaviera Simmons, <i>One Day and Back Then (Standing)</i>, 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) staged herself among a towering thicket of reeds in her photograph One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007), currently on view in NMWA’s exhibition Live Dangerously. Simmons wears a black trench coat, black tights and boots, black face makeup, and bright red lipstick—a presentation that starkly juxtaposes her form against the landscape.

Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) staged herself among a towering thicket of yellow reeds in her photograph One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007). Simmons wears a black trench coat, black tights and boots, black face makeup, and bright red lipstick—a presentation that starkly juxtaposes her form against the landscape.
Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

In her writing on racial and social justice for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Art Newspaper, Simmons has expressed a desire to understand what it takes to shift political systems. Her art works to shift our notions of race, history, and collective narratives.

She says of One Day and Back Then (Standing), “The image asks complicated questions of the viewer: Who is this subject and what are her intentions? What is the meaning of blackface in this context and where might this subject be? Who, historically and traditionally, gets to exist in the sublime with regards to landscape photography and landscape painting? How might our entire history have been different had America fulfilled its emancipatory promises to its freed slaves and their descendants instead of commemorating its defeated Confederate planters?”

“Black American men and women, particularly those who descend from American slavery, have been in a constant state of migration, distress, and unsettle since the formation of the United States in and on the landscape of their centuries of forced toil,” explained the artist. Simmons herself is the daughter of a sharecropper from Georgia and can trace her ancestors back nearly four centuries in the U.S. The artist states that her “entire lineage on all sides is all some kind of mixed ‘race’ group built by Southern American slavery.”

After graduating from Bard College with her BFA in 2004, Simmons simultaneously trained as an actor at the Maggie Flanigan Studio and completed the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in Studio Art. She uses wide-ranging forms of art and writing in her work, including photography, performance, installation, and sound.

In her feature for MoMA, Simmons contemplates white supremacy and systemic racism in her social groups, her home town of New York City, and the country. “America doesn’t know people as daughters of sharecroppers or as descendants of American slavery…if there are descendants of slavery then there are descendants of planters and plantation owners.…Our collective narrative doesn’t really account for the white people, their children, and so on across the country who oppressed negros for centuries, like till right now.” Simmons wants us to properly acknowledge and take responsibility for our national history of oppression. “It would be radical if we were once again abolitionists; these times demand the usage of that word…”

Related Posts

  • Reclamation: Q&A with Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

    Posted: Jan 19, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Interdisciplinary artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz talks with us about her process and work, part of NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals.
    A olive-skinned woman smiles brightly, seemingly mid-laugh, as she sits at an office desk, her right hand placed beneath her chin. Her brown curly hair is worn in a cropped pixie cut and she wears cat-eye glasses. In front of her is a closed Apple laptop; the wall behind her holds two framed certificates or degrees, a framed newspaper, a wooden cross, and other pasted photos.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Paola Podestá Martí

    Posted: Jan 12, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Chilean artist Paola Podestá Martí's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Echiko Ohira

    Posted: Jan 05, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Japanese artist Echiko Ohira's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    In a white brick artist's studio, a small light-skinned Japanese woman stands amongst various supplies, including work paper, paper sculptures, scissors, glue sticks, and paint cans. She wears a black shirt and stares directly at the camera, unsmiling. Her black hair is pulled back and she has streaks of white hair at her hairline's part.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight