The Black Overlay,
June 1-22, 2019

posted in: gallery-2019 | 0

The Black Overlay, an exhibition and performance series by Sherman Fleming and Holly Bass

Exhibition dates: June 1- June 22, 2019

Opening Reception: Saturday June 1, 4 – 7 pm


Thurs. June 20 @ 6:30 pm: Performance of Pretending to Be Rock

(approx. 2-3 hours) in the theater

Sat. June 1 @ 5:00 pm: Performance of Something Akin to Living

(approx. 30 mins) in the theater

Sat. June 22 4:30pm-6pm: Closing reception. Artist talk with Holly Bass and Sherman Fleming, moderated by Terence Washington from 3pm-4:30pm.

On view in the gallery: Infinite Desire is an ongoing series of collage-based figurative abstractions Fleming started in 2012. Informed by Japan’s Edo period, particularly its vision of “the floating world,” the Infinite Desire series integrates figurative, graphic and textural fragments that express an urgent and potent symmetry.

The Black Overlay is the outgrowth of a collaboration between Holly Bass and Sherman Fleming which began in 2015. This first iteration at DCAC, in conjunction with the art space’s 30th anniversary, consists of an exhibition of new visual art work by Sherman Fleming curated by Terence Washington, as well as re-stagings of two of Fleming’s early performances about black masculinity in which Holly Bass will occupy Fleming’s role. Performance artists Wilmer Wilson and Maps Glover will participate in the re-stagings.

The title comes from conversations between Fleming, Bass and Washington in which all three shared experiences in which the public assumed that their respective creative or scholarly work was about blackness, regardless of whether the artist or curator said or implied such and even when they said it was not about blackness but about some other concept or idea. That is to say, no matter what each of them creates, there seems to always be an overlay of blackness imposed by the public imagination. Often times the artists *are* dealing specifically with race and blackness, but not every time.

Many of Fleming’s early performances explored notions of black masculinity. For his duets, Fleming collaborated with both black and white female performers, but found that when white women performed with him, the work was viewed by critics and the public as an exploration of interracial sexual dynamics or about whiteness. This dynamic did not occur when the collaborator was a white male or a black female.

As Bass and Fleming began researching together with the intention of creating new work, they decided to restage two of Fleming’s early works about black masculinity and invert the gender roles so that Bass would take Fleming’s position in the piece and the roles originally played by women would be performed by black male performance artists.


Sherman Fleming has been actively involved in performance art since the 1970s. His work often explores the body’s expressive power and the limits of endurance, confronting issues of black masculinity and the psychosexual tensions surrounding the black male body. Fleming received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and his MFA from Hartford Art School. His performance work has been featured at a number of institutions, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, and Franklin Furnace in New York.

Holly Bass is a multidisciplinary performance and visual artist, writer and director. Recurring themes in her work include the black female body, labor, gentrification and community engagement. She studied modern dance (under Viola Farber) and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College before earning her Master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. From 2014-2019, she directed a year-round creative writing and performance program for adjudicated youth in DC’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. She is a 2019 Red Bull Detroit Artist-in-residence, a recipient of the 2019 Dance USA Artist Fellowship and a 2019 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.

Terence Washington has written on lynching photography and on the use of sensationalism for reinforcing white supremacy, and he believes that the only just aim for reparations is happy black people. He was an Air Force linguist before discovering liberal arts and art history at St. John’s College, and he earned a Master’s in art history from Williams College. He now writes about art in his capacity as a museum educator at the National Gallery of Art and in freelance projects for museums and artists.

Image: Sherman Fleming, Infinite Desire #17, Watercolor on 140 lb. Arches hot press. 30″ x 22″