Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21, 1980. Single-channel video (color, sound; 12:15 minutes). Gift of Garth Greenan. Courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. © Howardena Pindell

Acclaimed visual artist Howardena Pindell creates work influenced by and responding to metaphors of disrepair and reconstruction, challenging the formal limits of painting and installation art from the 1960s to the present. After a car accident in 1979, Pindell turned more earnestly to the social and political in her work, exemplified in this intensely personal film, Free, White and 21, from 1980. Facing the video camera, Pindell provides a deadpan account of the anti-Black racism she has faced as a Black woman in the United States, from childhood to adulthood, in school, among colleagues, in art institutions, and in the women’s movement. As she speaks, the artist wraps and unwraps gauze around her head, perhaps a comment on her accident or on being silenced. Interjected throughout are brief scenes of Pindell posing as a white woman in a blonde wig and sunglasses, who dismisses her accounts of racism with the suggestion, “You really must be paranoid. I’ve never had an experience like that, but then of course, I’m free, white, and 21.” This latter catchphrase, which gives the work its title, references a commonplace claim to individual liberty foundational to white privilege, which Pindell exposes as a freedom long since denied to Black people in this country, even in the telling of her own story.

View more of Pindell’s work on the artist’s website at