In the world of today’s clout-erati, a dedicated cult of personality is seemingly essential for widespread celebration as an artist. Not intellect, ambition, or talent, but an obsession with oneself—a god complex even—has propelled many of today’s most talked-about figures in art and entertainment into mainstream virality. In an image-saturated and hyper-capitalist market, egomania has come to act as a marker of true genius. To be a creator is to be a god—Kanye’s self-proclaimed branding as Yeezus, a sort of equally dystopic and ultra-modern Black messiah, comes to mind. Still, there are few visionaries who possess a larger-than-life sense of self that feels well earned. Martine Syms is such a figure.
Syms brandishes herself as a “conceptual entrepreneur,”1 and her voice has always been, in her words, “clear as a fucking whistle.” Syms is an artist, a filmmaker, a poet, a technologist, a theorist, a trickster, a chaos connoisseur—and the list goes on. But most notably, she is someone who is deeply intuitive. As she works across a wide range of time-based media, Syms’s voice is easily the most distinguishable aspect of her impressive volume of work and an impressive practice she maintains. For over a decade now, her signature blend of deadpan Black comedy and keen social critique has pulled from a rigorous theoretical lexicon. It has often taken form as cheeky, if not incisive, moving image work and photography. Her broader conceptual approaches to image making, meditative multimedia installations, sculpture, and discursive print and web publishing are all interested in how Black femme subjectivity, surveillance, and performance exist in time.