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Video Art Holds a New Take on Race Relations

Jefferson Pinder came up with the idea for his exhibit “Juke” while driving around Washington. Pinder, a video artist, found himself turning down the volume on bands like Radiohead and Ben Folds Five. He asked himself why he felt ashamed, as a black person, to listen to white musicians.

To confront presumptions about race, Pinder made videos of ten African-Americans, each clad in white against a white background, lip-synching to songs by white artists such as Johnny Cash, Queen, and Patti Smith. “The idea is to play with what people expect when they see a face,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a gotcha.”

Like most of Pinder’s work, “Juke” took songs and images from contemporary media—the white backgrounds were reminiscent of a Gap or Target ad—and twisted them. The exhibit, shown last fall at G Fine Art in DC’s Logan Circle, won raves from critics. Although the exhibit is over, you can see some of the videos on G Fine Art’s Web site (gfineartdc.com) by clicking on “selected archives,” then “Jefferson Pinder/Juke.”

Pinder, 36, grew up in Silver Spring; his mother was a DC schoolteacher, his father a government speechwriter and Catholic deacon. After graduating from Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, Pinder earned an undergraduate degree in theater and a master’s in painting and mixed media from the University of Maryland. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, African-American artist David Driskell, Pinder began teaching art at Maryland in 2003.

With his videos, Pinder hopes to open a conversation about the core of black identity: “You’ve got this venue, and you want to say something; why not say something meaningful?”

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