Orbiting Us #18
Derrick Adams is a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, installation art, and performance. His work has been exhibited internationally and nationally, from the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, to the Anne de Villepoix gallery in Paris. This recent acquisition is part of a series related to African American identity called Future People. Using archival images, Adams investigates the roots of Black American culture in Africa and dreams of a future in outer space.
Drawing from such divergent sources as Star Trek and Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist science fiction film Space is the Place (1974), Adams deploys modern associations with space travel while also incorporating ancient motifs and imagery. Orbiting Us #18, with its silver mat frame, can be read as a spaceship window offering us a view of the galaxy. In front of the planet Jupiter, the crowned head of the Egyptian King Amen-em-hat III floats in space with a space suit and NASA technician facing it. The modern scene, captioned “Top Sergeant Julie Barrows prepares a pressure suit for presidential inspection,” was culled from a 1960s article about the space race in Ebony Magazine. With this pairing, the artist collapses ancient mythical and modern American conceptions of space within the portal window of an imaginary vessel.
This work was originally created for an interactive, immersive exhibit at Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, which featured a video projection, DJ set, sculpture, and two-dimensional collages on paper. Adams mined the Arts Bank’s library collections related to African American history, including the Johnson Publishing Archive, to create a unique combination of imagery. Underlying the original installation and this individual artwork is Adams’s recognition of achievement and invention, both historical and modern, which the artist connects to Africa and African Americans.