LA-based Martine Syms is many things—a graphic designer, a “conceptual entrepreneur,” a net artist—but most importantly, a thinker who examines the assumptions of contemporary America and ways that identity and memory are transformed by the shifting boundaries of business and culture. Her work explores themes as varied as Afrofuturism, queer theory, the power of language, and the spiritual nature of the color purple. The topic of her recent SXSW presentation, “Black Vernacular: Reading New Media Art,” asked the questions: “What does it mean for a black woman to make minimal, masculine net art? What about this piece is ‘not black’? Can my identity be expressed as an aesthetic quality?” From 2007 to 2011, Syms was codirector of the influential Golden Age project space in Chicago, where she organized dozens of cultural projects and initiated a publishing program of young, emerging artists. She has collaborated with artists Paul Chan and Theaster Gates, created web design for fashion retailer Nasty Gal, created a branding and marketing strategy for nonprofit group Summer Forum for Inquiry + Exchange, and runs Dominica Publishing in her spare time. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as the New Museum (New York), MCA Chicago, Capricious Space (Brooklyn), and the Soap Factory (Minneapolis). Syms is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Film, Video, and New Media. In her new Insights talk “Black Vernacular: Lessons of the Tradition,” Syms will describe her connection with the black radical tradition, using poet Kevin Young’s ideas as a framework to understand her own design practice and strategies of code-switching.
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