BOMB THE ROOT: The Keith Antar Mason Interview

In this 1994 interview culled from BOMB Magazine’s Digital Archives, performance artist and playwright Keith Antar Mason talks about black anger, pushing the envelope and why he’s not the Ice Cube of performance art.

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Performance artist and playwright Keith Antar Mason had his turn in the limelight in the early 1990s when he and his theatrical company, The Hittite Empire, were commissioned to perform 49 Blues Songs to a Jealous Vampire at Lincoln Center. The two-hour performance, described by New York Times critic Stephen Holden as “an interlocking series of incendiary riffs on racial oppression,” was inspired by the systemic and institutionalized repression of black men in American culture.

Mason was born and raised in St. Louis, where entrenched segregation and what he calls “racial tyranny” bred in him a deep, abiding anger towards white America.

Much like the conversation we ran earlier with bell hooks, this BOMB magazine interview between Mason and Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco, conducted in Los Angeles in 1994 (after the L.A. riots, right before OJ Simpson’s famous car chase), offers us a look at the intense anger and indignation felt by so many African Americans during this particularly tense moment in the American history.

In this interview, you will also notice further similarities between Mason and some of the other artists featured in the BOMB The Root series. Long before Yinka Shonibare screened his subversive version of Swan Lake outside the Royal Opera House in London, Mason and his collaborators were taking their performance pieces to the streets, alleys and basketball courts. But before Mason ever thought to set out from St. Louis for Los Angeles, Charles White and Kerry James Marshall were building up a thriving L.A. black arts community.

These common threads remind us of the significant tradition of African-American art and agitation and the importance of keeping these artists’ stories alive.

--Adda Birnir

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