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Western Passage, 1997 (detail). Digital print on cotton sateen, and video projection. 24 mattresses: 72 x 24 x 6 inches each (182.88 x 60.96 x 15.24 cm). Dimensions vary with installation. Western Passage, 1997. Digital print on cotton sateen, and video projection. 24 mattresses: 72 x 24 x 6 inches each (182.88 x 60.96 x 15.24 cm). Dimensions vary with installation. Video stills from Western Passage, 1997.
Western Passage, 1997 (detail). Digital print on cotton sateen, and video projection. 24 mattresses: 72 x 24 x 6 inches each (182.88 x 60.96 x 15.24 cm). Dimensions vary with installation.
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Western Passage, 1997. Digital print on cotton sateen, and video projection. 24 mattresses: 72 x 24 x 6 inches each (182.88 x 60.96 x 15.24 cm). Dimensions vary with installation.
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Video stills from Western Passage, 1997.
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Keith Piper

Keith Piper’s work consistently interprets and reinterprets the black diaspora experience. Western Passage, in particular, reexamines the colonizing history of the British Empire. Comprised of twenty-four mattresses and a large-scale video projection, the installation combines text, sound, and imagery to reflect on the period of Britain’s empire building, and the African and Caribbean nations whose people, resources, and political systems were exploited.

The handmade mattresses are arranged on the floor like the human cargo of a slave ship, oriented toward the sound and video projection illuminating the room from the front. The digital prints on each mattress—smaller than a standard twin bed, allowing barely enough room for a single body—are compartmentalized into squares. Each area shows an image relating to the mercenary currency of the era—coffee beans, black-eyed peas, maps of the British expansion, coins, the ocean, and bodies.

Piper is in the forefront of artists using digital media to combine and conflate multiple sources, such as ethnographic material, popular music, media clips, photography, and graphics. His video for Western Passage is a mesmerizing blend of images—rolling green waves, photographs of black families, a compass, and a globe— and of sounds, most striking of which is a voice that periodically states, “Beyond this, the country is unknown to Europeans.”

Bio
British, born Malta 1960, lives in London
Keith Piper was born in Malta, and grew up in and around Birmingham, England. While attending Lanchester Polytechnic, where he took foundation classes in art and design (1979–1980), Piper joined with other young black artists to form the BLK Art Group. Their exhibitions gave rise to a new, political voice in contrast to the British art establishment. Piper continued his formal studies, earning a BA in Fine Arts from Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham (1983), and a MA in Environmental Media from the Royal College of Art in London (1986). Piper is known for his multi-media installations, which often incorporate computer technology, video, music, text, and photography. He has exhibited internationally, with a mid-career survey at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (1999), and one-person shows at The Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park, London (1994), and the Camden Arts Centre in London (1991). A multi-media book project, Relocating the Remains, was published in 1997 by the Institute of International Visual Arts.