FOR THE FIRST TIME in its short history, the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize has been awarded to a video artist. The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) announced Sondra Perry is the winner of the 2017 prize. Based in New Jersey, Perry’s unique practice explores abstraction and representation through video, computer-based media, and performance.

Funded by the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Endowment and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, the prize recognizes early career black artists who have been practicing for less than a decade.

Perry joins a formidable group. Previous recipients include painter Brenna Youngblood (2015); photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier (2013); multidisciplinary artist Theaster Gates (2011) whose practice spans sculpture, installation, performance and “urban interventions”; and painter Titus Kaphar (2009), who was the first artist to be selected for the biannual prize.

The honor includes $10,000 and a solo show at SAM in fall 2017. Perry’s exhibition will be curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont who chairs the education department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and previously served as deputy director of education and public programs and adjunct curator of modern and contemporary art at the Seattle museum.

“Sondra’s work is at once subversively witty, concretely inventive, and above all, timely,” Jackson-Dumont said in the announcement. “I am mesmerized by her uncanny use of performance and digital platforms to create meaning and comment on black experiences in particular and societal issues overall. I could not be more thrilled to work with this exceptional artist.”

“Sondra’s work is at once subversively witty, concretely inventive, and above all, timely. …I am mesmerized by her uncanny use of performance and digital platforms to create meaning and comment on black experiences in particular and societal issues overall.”
— Curator Sandra Jackson-Dumont

PERRY’S WORK HAS APPEARED in group exhibitions at MoMA PS1, Studio Museum in Harlem, and SAM. Her video “Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera” was featured in “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art,” which was organized by the Seattle museum and traveled to the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Brooklyn Museum.

Presented at The Kitchen in 2016, “Resident Evil,” was her first solo institutional exhibition. The show considered blackness, police brutality, and the value and power of black life in a series of video installations—abstracted works that are incredibly direct. The New York Times said “Resident Evil” should be “required viewing.” The reviewer noted: “With four formally accomplished, brutally forthright video installations, Ms. Perry uses the implacable inhumanity of computer and video-game software as a searing window into the contemporary black experience.”


TOP IMAGE: Installation view of SONDRA PERRY, “Resident Evil” (“Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation,” in foreground) at The Kitchen, 2016. | Photo by Jason Mandella, Courtesy Seattle Art Museum


Still from SONDRA PERRY “My Twilight Zone Thing,” 2014 – work in progress (2 channel 4:3 video, loop, color, sound). The two-channel video uses appropriated footage from episodes of “The Twilight Zone” cast beside reenactments in the artist’s studio. (Perry is shown at right). | via


At Recess art space in New York, “Sondra Perry: My Twilight Zone Thing” was based on the premise that the TV show “dismantles whiteness through the lens of science fiction” and involved filming 20 non-white volunteers re-performing the program’s 156 introductions originally narrated by Rod Sterling. Perry’s bio for the Recess project in 2015 reflects some of the issues she examines in her work. She lists her degrees—a BFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 2012 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2015—and notes Columbia is “New York City’s 12th largest employer and the number one cause of gentrification in the neighborhood of Harlem, New York.”

SEE MORE of her work at

In a recent ARTnews interview, Perry explained how abstraction functions in her practice, particularly in her video work. She said abstraction “gives me a type of freedom of expression, an expanding of the visual language. But the issue I have with abstraction is that in art it is perceived as a neutral act. Abstraction isn’t neutral. Abstraction allows you to turn an entire group of people into a monolith. And when political abstractions happen over marginalized bodies, that’s a huge issue. But at the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of power you can give or gain through this, the use of this concept. That idea is core to my work, the questions of, What does abstraction do, and how can I use it responsibly?” CT


Installation view of SONDRA PERRY, “Wet and Wavy Looks—Typhon coming on for a Three Monitor Workstation” at The Kitchen, 2016 (video, rowing machine workstation, Eco styler gel, 5:43 min.). | Photo by Jason Mandella, Courtesy Seattle Art Museum


SONDRA PERRY, “Young Women Sitting and Standing and Talking and Stuff (No, No, No),” April 21, 2015, Performance at the Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, NYC, with performers Joiri Minaya, Victoria Udondian, and Ilana Harris-Babou. | Courtesy Seattle Art Museum


SONDRA PERRY, Installation view of “Lineage for a Multiple-Monitor Workstation: Number One” in “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1, 2015 (2-channel video installation, loop, color, sound; TRT: 26:00). | © 2015 MoMA PS1, Photo by Pablo Enriquez, Courtesy Seattle Art Museum


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