2020: (Di)Visions of America is the title of an upcoming performance work by John Sims, which will be presented as part of the Art of Performance program in the Historic Asolo Theater January 16-18, 2021. This work for the stage incorporates the artist’s responses to social phenomena surrounding COVID-19 and American policing, and dramatizes the pushback on Confederate iconography and systemic white supremacy with Sims’ unique vision for bold reckoning and reconciliation. This premiere comes at a time when the title’s significance couldn’t be starker. Coming out of a divisive election season, an unprecedented pandemic health crisis and a year of national protests around racism in America, the work exposes each theme as if reading the diagnoses on a physician’s chart without shying away from oppositional viewpoints and poetic complexities. In a live-streamed performance, Sims mines his larger interdisciplinary system of mathematics, visual art, journalism and performance practices to express, embody, interrogate and respond to the social, economic and racial divisions baked into our local and national history.
John Sims is a Sarasota-based artist and writer who came to Florida from Detroit via New England to expand his practice as an educator and Math artist. Over the last 20 years, his art, teaching and activism have unfolded in a sustained sequence of representative actions, visual art exhibitions and writing that use structure (social and mathematical), rhythm (political and poetic), and public discourse to set norms of white supremacy and Confederate symbolism aflame. Literally and figuratively.
This performance work was born out of nearly two decades of dedicated research, iteration and innovation on topics that are as old as our nation, always asking audiences to dig beyond binary assumptions. One of the central images of Sims’ suite of works around Confederate iconography is his AfroConfederate flag, which adopts its original Civil War era pattern and recolors it in red, black and green, the colors of African nationalism. This appropriation merges opposing ideologies into one symbol, and provokes reflection on how to move forward in societal unity with a full acknowledgement of the sins of our collective past. As a leader in the national conversation regarding Confederate symbolism, Sims’ position as an artist located in the South deserves visibility. While less referenced in the media, Florida’s history, monuments and attachment to Confederate ideologies are not insignificant.
As a writer, his poetic case making reaches audiences beyond the arts world, which reflects an artist-activist acuity for leveraging multiple factors to draw attention to a single purpose using the emotional impact of the arts. The fruits of this latest intense focus on the three-pronged topics of our time that will be seen on stage at The Ringling are partly an outgrowth of Sims’ artist residency, which begin at the museum in September 2020. After the performances, an installation entitled AfroDixia—a flag viewing and listening session—will be on view in the Historic Asolo Theater from January 18-25, 2021; https://www.ringling.org/events/afrodixia-ringling-museum-session. His work will also be seen at The Ringling as part of the exhibit For Real This Time in the Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art, featuring film and video-based work by seven artists from the US and Canada, whose work explores issues of race, history, representation, and social justice. His video Recoloration Proclamation, 2020 will be on view January 29 – February 18, 2021.
On Saturday, February 6, 2021, Sims will give the Keynote address in the Historic Asolo Theater as the closing of the 2021 Symposium Series entitled Monuments, Markers, and Memory, an cross-college community event inspired by his trio of Op Ed articles in the Tampa Bay Times in the summer of 2020. This six-week long program of exhibits, panels and activities is being co-organized by New College of Florida, University of South Florida, the State College of Florida and The Ringling Museum, and brings together a wide range of researchers, community leaders, artists and activists at the intersection of archeology, history, activism and memorialization.
2020: (Di)Visions of America will coincide not only with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, but will immediately precede the presidential inauguration of 2021. The significance of these dates can’t be overstated in how they relate to Sims’ themes, and we believe he is singularly prepared to deliver an experience which allows community to process, debate and celebrate through the art of performance within this historic chronology.
- Elizabeth Doud, Currie-Kohlman Curator of Performance Programs