- Kevin Beasley born 1985
- Microphone stands, gas masks, megaphones, polyurethane foam, polyurethane resin, clothing, feathers, baseball caps, umbrella frame and other materials
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the North American Acquisitions Committee in honour of Bob Rennie, Chair of the Committee 2010–2016, 2017, accessioned 2021
Your face is / is not enough 2016 is an installation by Kevin Beasley comprising twelve individual sculptures and a performance. It was made for Between the Ticks of the Watch, a group exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 2016. Eleven of the sculptures consist of a microphone stand topped by an altered and encased gas mask, and an altered and encased megaphone resting at the base of the stand. The twelfth sculpture comprises the altered gas mask and megaphone without a microphone stand. The materials used include found thrift-store clothes, feathers, baseball caps and umbrellas. These materials are sometimes filled with polyurethane foam and sometimes hardened after being soaked in resin.
Whenever the work is installed, a performance takes place on the occasion of the opening. Twelve performers wear the altered gas masks over their heads and carry the megaphones. Each stops beside a microphone stand attaches the hand-held voice-receiver of the megaphone to the nozzle of the gas masks using Velcro, and begin a series of three deep and audible breaths followed by a loud ‘AAH’ sound. This sequence is repeated thirty times over a period of several minutes. At the end of the sequence, the receiver is detached from the gas mark, and re-attached to the megaphone. The megaphone is rested on the floor, and the mask is placed on top of the stand. The performers bow and leave the space. Thereafter, the work is experienced as a sculptural installation.
The group of twelves sculptures calls to mind a congregation of other-worldly characters in masks and headdresses; each sculpture is also an individual abstract object. Beasley works in the legacy of process art, soft sculpture and assemblage. Your face is / is not enough plays on the contrasts between softness and hardness, voluminous shapes and wavy planes, flexibility and rigidity, and organic and industrially produced materials. Beasley carefully composed colours and patterns, sensitively setting off the elaborate and decorative fabrics of some sculptures with two monochrome works, one white, the other black. Beasley chose a range of fabrics and clothing-types for this work, but several call to mind African American headwear: baseball caps, knitted Rasta hats and bandanas. One sculpture includes faux-Kente fabric; another incorporates fake leopard skin. Beasley combines material processes associated with artists such as Lynda Benglis and Eva Hesse with the highly allusive assemblage activities of David Hammons, for instance his use of a sweatshirt hood in his sculpture In the Hood 1993.
Although some of the sculptures recall the shapes of cartoon characters, with Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny ears, the incorporation of gas masks and megaphones in all the sculptures cuts against associations of child-friendly characters. Instead, the masks and megaphones bring to mind protective wear for riots and war, as well as equipment used in protests. In the context in which they were made, they evoke the gassing of civilians in Syria and unrest and protest in African American communities following the succession of killings of black men by police in the 2010s. Your face is / is not enough also invokes the word ‘breathe’, associated very prominently with the death of Eric Garner in July 2014. Garner, a resident of Staten Island, New York, was heard saying ‘I can’t breathe’ eleven times as he was held in a choke position by New York police; he died shortly afterwards. His words were appropriated as a slogan on T-shirts and banners in many of the street protests that took place in the wake of this event.
Beasley does not overtly refer to these events in the work, but in email correspondence with Tate curator Mark Godfrey related that in researching the work, he collected several images of police and protestors wearing gas masks and concealing their faces. These events form a backdrop for both the sculptures and the performance. Your face is / is not enough resists simplistic interpretation and cannot be reduced to a statement about particular events; part of Beasley’s interests as an artist is to make sculptures and performances that are compelling, beautiful and haunting in their combination of fabrics, foams, resins, and specific objects (in this case, gas masks and megaphones). Beasley takes actions and objects associated with violence and anger and incorporates them into a collective of otherworldly, beautifully adorned figures. By doing so, he suggests a kind of communal and imaginative resistance to conditions of violence even as he recalls them.
Beasley sees the title Your face is / is not enough as a poetic component of the work and has commented:
The title is a direct reference to a mask and the simple question of how prepared/capable is one for certain circumstances. Is your face enough? Is your facial structure, your expression, this gateway to your identity enough? Can I communicate and be understood with my face, this aspect of my identity? The use of the mask becomes important to shaping one’s identity, their influence and in some way their command of power. What has been pivotal to the ideas embedded in this work are the images of police riot gear employed in situations of unrest such as Ferguson, Baltimore, Syria, and Turkey – these faces being obscured, contorted, and manipulated/lative. The title pushes, for me, on how one chooses to obscure their face and/or reveal it to communicate, to use coercive action, and to survive.
(Kevin Beasley, email correspondence with Tate curator Mark Godfrey, 5 September 2016.)
Mike Pepi, ‘In the Studio: Kevin Beasley’, Art in America, December 2014.
Thomas J. Lax, ‘Kevin Beasley’, Artforum, January 2015, pp.200–1
Andy Battaglia, ‘In Focus: Kevin Beasley’, frieze, no.172, June 2015, pp.156–7, .
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