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British visual artist Steve McQueen (also known for his feature films 12 Years a Slave, Shame and Hunger) presents the latest version of End Credits for the first time in the Netherlands. This video installation is about Paul Robeson (1898-1976), a celebrated African-American singer and actor who became a great civil rights activist, communist, and an outspoken opponent of social inequality. Beginning in the McCarthy era, the FBI assiduously compiled a file consisting of thousands of pages. McQueen's video presents a scrolling view of scanned pages of heavily censored, declassified documents as actors narrate selections from the text. End Credits shows the perverse nature of political discrimination and persecution.
A film’s closing credits are called to mind. Film director and visual artist Steve McQueen has page after page of text roll continuously over two opposing screens. Through the speakers actors’ voices
reading passages from the large file assembled by the FBI between 1941 and 1976 concerning the legendary African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976). With End Credits, it’s the closing credits that tell the entire story.
McQueen first came into contact with the work of Paul Robeson when he was just fourteen. Later, as McQueen discovered more about Robeson, he became one of McQueen’s major sources of inspiration. Robeson was an intellectual, and was one of the few blacks during that era to have studied law; he had a splendid singing voice and acted in dozens of plays and films. Starting from the 1920s, Robeson toured with overwhelming success throughout Europe and America. During that time he also became a highly sought-after speaker on social and political issues. He supported the revolutionary party during the Spanish Civil War and became an enthusiastic advocate for the communist regime in Russia, in part because in Moscow – for the first time – he wasn’t confronted with racism.
Robeson returned to America at the outbreak of the Second World War and grew to become the symbol of the fight against foreign fascism and domestic racism. He was one of the most prominent and outspoken celebrities of the era, using his fame to raise awareness of social injustice. One of his most notable achievements was the founding of the American Crusade Against Lynching in 1946.
Political struggle and subjugation are themes which also play an important role in Steve McQueen’s earlier art works and feature films. In these, subservience is expressed primarily through physical means, with a strong emphasis on the human form: the emaciated body of the Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender in Hunger, or the scar-covered back of Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong'o’s Academy Award-winning role. In End Credits, McQueen shifts the focus from physical suffering to psychological oppression. What does it mean when someone is monitored non-stop and has their reputation questioned for 35 years?
The report, containing thousands of documents and released thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, presents a disconcerting picture of both the range and detail of the data collected by the FBI: dates, names, everyday observations, and newspaper clippings about Robeson's efforts to create an anti-lynching law. The redacted passages are every bit as impressive, made illegible to protect the identity of informants.
End Credits presents a haunting vision of the McCarthy era's hysteria and paranoia, with its unfounded accusations and its snitches and informants: an image that remains recognisable and timely. Robeson ended up being blacklisted, making it impossible for him to work. He was one of the great champions of the African-American civil rights movement, but, because of these FBI files, his legacy, his story, has been erased from the memories of the present generation of young Americans. End Credits puts Robeson back in the footlights in a radical way.
Over the last twenty years Steve McQueen has been influential in expanding the way in which artists work with film. He has been the author of some of the most seminal works of the moving image
designed for gallery-based presentation, as well as three films for cinematic release, Hunger (2008), Shame (2010) and 12 Years a Slave (2013). His work hovers between the specific and the universal, the literal and the abstract. Certain works stem from McQueen's unflinching observation of the self - sometimes with ambiguous carnal undertones. Others drawn from a potent, at times bleak, political consciousness, which addresses specific historical moments.
Born in London in 1969 he currently lives and works in London and Amsterdam. Solo exhibitions of this work have been held in 2017 at the ICA Boston; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester; the Pérez Art Museum Miami; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Eenwerk, Amsterdam; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016) and Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo (2014). An important retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012 and traveled to the Schaulager, Basel in 2013. McQueen represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Additionally, he has participated in the Venice Biennale (2015, 2013, 2007 and 2003) and at Documenta XI (2002) and X (1997). He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Johannes Vermeer Prize (2016), Harvard University, W.E.B. Du Bois Medal (2014), Best Picture (for 12 Years A Slave), Academy Awards (2014), CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (2011), OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) (2002) and the Turner Prize, Tate Gallery, London, England (1999).
- Steve McQueen