Art Basel Miami Beach

Artist Jefferson Pinder: "I Don't Think That Our Crew Has Become Activists, but I Think We May Be on the Cusp"

Although interdisciplinary artist Jefferson Pinder doesn’t consider himself an activist, his artwork seems to indicate otherwise. Known for his performances, video work, and objects that challenge viewers to think about society at large, Pinder often uses the black male body to focus on matters of physicality, violence, and race in America. On Saturday, he joins Prizm Art Fair for a panel talk, along with the presentation of his performance piece, Dark Matter, in collaboration with break-dancing crew Lionz of Zion.

“I’ve been to Miami for Basel many times, but something that came to my attention was the commercial nature of the art fair, which is something I’ve struggled with, especially last year with the protests [surrounding police brutality and the deaths of Israel Hernandez, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner],” Pinder says. “It was hard for me to think about what side I was on, and working with Prizm this year allows us to be more grounded, more in touch with the community.”

Loosely based on the events from August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, Dark Matter is a departure for Pinder: it’s the first time he has worked with trained physical performers and created a piece based on current events. The focus of Dark Matter is on the “battle,” (the duels between individual break dancers and their crews) illuminating how powerful movements related to current events can be. 

“There are a lot of ways people can read the performance,” says Pinder. “First of all, is it even a dance show? I think one of the worst insults I ever received was when someone said it was a great hip-hop show. It’s not just a hip-hop show; we’re trying to reinterpret it and get to the core of what the music and art form means. I don’t think our show is literal at all and it really defies expectation.”

Just as the events in Ferguson are complex and about more than just a racial struggle, so is too Dark Matter. Pinder uses light and sound to elevate the spirit of rebellion, where battling is a sort of performed warfare. Choosing the right beats and knowing when to pull back proved to be a challenge. “For Dark Matter, the sound is something we wrestled with,” says the artist. “There is something about having a solid tempo and drive; it’s an adrenaline throughout the piece. But you know, sometimes you want to hear the breathing, that thud when the body hits the ground.”

By linking the performance to black power and the history of police brutality in America, Pinder finds a way to archive a current moment in history that coincides with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In the age of social media and smartphones, racism and inequality have paradoxically become more “real” through visuals and video. Pinder takes those current events a step further in Dark Matter in order to create a dialogue between artist and viewer within and outside of the black community. 

“In terms of why I chose to do break dancing, I’m trying to convey empathy and feelings. I feel like the strongest works are the ones that have the conversations that follow. I don’t think that our crew has become activists, but I think we may be on the cusp.”

Jefferson Pinder as part of the Prizm Panels series
Saturday, December 5, from noon to 5:30 pm. The Dark Matter performance is part of the Prizm Block Party on Saturday, December 5, at 5:30 pm. All events have a suggested donation of $10 and require an RSVP. For more information visit

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Dana De Greff

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