Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry
From an AI interaction with a deceased black artist to a Punjabi granny making a sandwich, this show explores identity through the generations
Keith Piper’s THIRTEEN DEAD remains relatively unknown. Yet the 1982 work was one of the earliest artistic responses to the previous year’s fire at a house party in New Cross, south London, that took the lives of 13 young black people.
Handwritten words appear with pictures of the victim’s face on a series of postcards placed across a width of charred patterned wallpaper and skirting board: “Sister Yvonne survived with us 15 years in Babylon. On the dawn of her 16th year, Babylon sniffed her out.” The explicitness of the work is deeply affecting. Anger isn’t an emotion you expect to feel in an exhibition inspired by a poem (Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird), and yet, the more you absorb the details of this work – the victims’ baby faces, the burn holes – the more you appear to be at the mercy of your own rage.