(born 1953, Richmond, Virginia; lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Sherman Fleming (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.
Sherman Fleming received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and his MFA from Hartford Art School. His performance work has been featured at a number of institutions, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, and Franklin Furnace in New York. His solo exhibitions include Codewords, VIAP Galerie, Heerlen, Netherlands (2006); Watercolors, International Visions Gallery, Washington, DC (2001); and Big Rebus Paintings, Nexus Gallery, Atlanta (1990). His performances include OLYMPIC, Project Row Houses, Houston (2009), and Pretending to Be Rock, Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia (2003). He has participated in group exhibitions such as The Postmillennial Black Madonna, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn (2007); Whisper! Stomp! Shout! A Salute to African American Performance Art, Colorado Springs Fine Art Center (1996); Other Bloods, Museum Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam (1995); Endurance, Exit Art, New York (1995).
Clifford Owens: Anthology Roundtable
Derrick Adams, Terry Adkins, Sherman Fleming, Maren Hassinger, Steffani Jemison, Lorraine O’Grady, and Clifford Owens in conversation with Kellie Jones
This roundtable was published in the exhibition catalogue for Clifford Owens: Anthology (2011), organized by Christopher Y. Lew at MoMA PS1. This transcript was reprinted with generous permission from MoMA PS1, the organizing curator and the panel participants.