Paul Stephen Benjamin: Reinterpreting the Sound of Blackness

January 26, 2018 – May 6, 2018

Paul Stephen Benjamin (American, b. 1966) is a conceptual artist whose work is a meditation on the color black, specifically as an entry point into discussions of identity, race, and masculinity. Benjamin’s artistic suggestion is that a cohesive message about identity is all but impossible but still worthy of exploration. Benjamin creates multilayered and large-scale sculptures and video installations, incorporating history, text, and popular culture. This solo presentation at Telfair Museums will be the artist’s largest focused presentation of his video installations to date.

Benjamin also investigates the concept of the “sound of black” by editing videos to repeat phrases, video clips, or letters to create layered, haunting compositions heard in rhythmic rounds. The video monitors are usually in various states of technological decay, and shown stacked and with all external and necessary devices like electrical cords and DVD players. Benjamin’s video installations include references to blackness — from the color of the discarded monitors that he stacks to make his sculptural towers to the faces of notable African Americans as varied as Shirley Chisholm, Condoleezza Rice, Eldridge Cleaver, Beyoncé, LeBron James, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Lil Wayne.

This simple entry point of the “color black” or the “sound of black” is used to explore the complexities, politics, poetics, and subjectivities of racial identity – whether stereotyped, projected, or self-identified. Benjamin is certainly a political artist, but he’s most interested in stepping back and allowing his work to operate as a medium for interpretation and introspection.