Ulysses S. Jenkins

(born 1946, Los Angeles, California; lives and works in Irvine, California)

Ulysses S. Jenkins

Ulysses S. Jenkins
Mass of Images (video still), 1978
VHS transferred to digital video
TRT 4:19
Courtesy the artist

Ulysses S. Jenkins was one of the first artists of his generation to combine video and performance to address topics of race, history, and the power of the state. He has been active in the Los Angeles art scene since the 1960s, often collaborating with other artists, founding the media group Venice Video News, and later opening Othervisions Studios, a collective performance space and studio. In his art, Jenkins blends conceptual complexity and political urgency with earthy humor as he explores the media’s portrayal of African Americans.

Shot in a recording studio, Jenkins’s Mass of Images (1978) critiques the cultural stereotyping of black men and women in American popular culture. In it, Jenkins sits in a wheelchair behind a pyramid of television sets. Holding a sledgehammer, he moves around the studio, reciting verses: “You’re just a mass of images you’ve gotten to know / from years and years of TV shows …” Jenkins threatens to smash the television sets, then bursts out laughing. The piece is intercut with still images from archival film and television footage featuring stereotypical images of African Americans. Blending avant-garde innovation, conceptual complexity, and political urgency—and grounded in earthy humor—the piece offers insights into the political and cultural realities of black communities in the U.S.

Ulysses Jenkins received his BA from Southern University (1969) and his MFA from Otis Art Institute (1979). He is currently an associate professor of studio art and an affiliate professor in the African American Studies program at the University of California, Irvine. His group exhibitions include Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011, traveling); VideoStudio: Playback, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2011); Sympathetic Magic: Video Myths and Rituals, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA (2011); California Video, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2008); Cross Sections, 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA (2007); Les soirées nomades: Nuits noires, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris (2006); African American Artists in Los Angeles: A Survey Exhibition; Fade, 1990–2003, Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles (2004); Race in Digital Space, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2002); and Audiovisual Poetry from the United States, 10th Videobrasil International Electronic Arts Festival, Sao Paulo (1994).