This video is based on a simple yet powerful juxtaposition shown on loop: the Black Power fist and the white power salute, visualized by the artist’s own hand and narrated by his voice. It grapples with Atkinson’s experience as the biracial son of a Black U.S. soldier stationed in Germany and a white civilian German woman born in the period following the Second World War. The artist understands both the Black liberation movement and the legacy of Nazi Germany—two contrasting and seemingly irreconcilable histories—as dual parts of his cultural inheritance. Yet there is historical precedent for this overlap. From 1954, those fighting for equal rights and an end to segregation in the United States invoked Germany to make their point. African American civil rights activists pointed to the hypocrisy of white Americans condemning Nazism abroad while upholding Jim Crow racism at home. They invoked Germany to prove that separate can never be equal. This work activates these histories from a first-person perspective that resonates in new ways today, amidst the recent resurgence of far-right violence and the uprisings that counter them with visions of justice and liberation.
Text by Leah Pires in conversation with James Gregory Atkinson, Leah Pires is a visiting assistant professor of art history at Providence College, Providence, RI, USA
Dr. Pires holds a PhD in Art History from Columbia University and is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program.