In 2013, the artist Adrian Piper decided she didn’t like her Wikipedia page. It was full of inaccuracies, she felt, and fell far beneath the editorial standards of a “real” encyclopedia or an academic journal.
So Piper reached out to Wikipedia to request they delete the page. Eventually, they replaced it with a new one, but she soon realized that that one, too, “had apparently not been fact-checked.” (Although Wikipedia requires sourcing citations, its content is volunteer-generated and has no central fact-checking department.)
At last, Piper took it upon herself to build her own “Wikipedia” page on her website. The “removed and reconstructed” article looks identical to a traditional Wikipedia entry, but with a few telling differences.
Under one category, which Piper titled “Personal and Racial Background,” she writes: “Like all Americans, Piper is racially mixed. She is 1/32 Malagasy (Madagascar), 1/32 African of unknown origin, 1/16 Igbo (Nigeria), and 1/8 East Indian (Chittagong, India [now Bangladesh]), in addition to having predominantly British and German family ancestry.”
Apparently this is a frequently asked question of Piper, who is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. So is the topic of her more than 50-year-long yoga practice, which also gets a dedicated section on the reconstructed site. Piper wrote each entry in order to have a place to refer people for an answer, “rather than repeating it each time the question is raised,” she told artnet News in an email.
The Wikipedia page is not a work of art, though it recalls the “Calling Card” meta-performances Piper carried out from 1986 to 1990. To confront racist comments, Piper, who is light-skinned, would hand out business cards that read: “Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark…I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you, just as I am sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me.” She had another version to hand out to men who paid her unsolicited attention in public spaces.
For Piper, the Wikipedia-like bio is a far more prosaic endeavor: an attempt to correct the record. “I wish I could tell you that anything as interesting as art was on my mind when I reconstructed that page,” Piper told artnet News. “Unfortunately it was nothing but a simple act of desperation. The factual errors in the official Wikipedia page were so numerous and glaring—and so incompatible with traditional standards of good scholarship—that it would have been a waste of time to try to get that right. The reconstructed page was a last resort.”
When asked what specifically remains inaccurate about the existing Wikipedia page, the artist said she couldn’t respond because “it is just too upsetting.” Instead, she urges anyone interested in finding out more information about Adrian Piper to visit the recreated Wiki on her website, which she updates at least once a year.
“It may not be comprehensive,” she said. “But at least everything there is accurate.”
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