A single question lies at the heart of this book: how do we accept respon-
sibility for the world in which we live? I believe this is the fundamental
question posed by Adrian Piper’s work. My interest in her work is aca-
demic, but I have undertaken my project specifically because it presents
an important challenge to assumptions about race, gender, sexuality,
and class in the United States. I take this challenge personally. When I
began researching Piper’s work, my intention was to study her among
a group of artists. As I delved deeper, I felt an urgency to apply the sin-
gularly compelling moral and intellectual questions at the heart of her
work to myself. How am I responsible for racism in the United States?
What is my role as a citizen, an art historian, and a parent?
I cannot tell readers how to answer such questions, except to point
out the importance of asking them. Over and over again. Constantly. As
a historian, I apply the question of responsibility to my work, my disci-
pline, and the object of my study. For example, I question what it means
to study Piper’s work as that of an African American artist. This does not
preclude such an approach, but an implication of Piper’s artwork is that
we need new strategies.
I am fortunate to have come to know Adrian as a person, not simply
as the author of a body of work. Working with Adrian over the past de-
cade has been a formative process. She has been open to sincere and
informed discussions of her art and experiences. We have developed a
working relationship that allows for agreement as well as disagreement,
which I hope is evident to readers. I am sincerely grateful to Adrian for
conversations, correspondence, visits, and, most of all, encouragement.
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