Performance artist Tom Pope

Xaviera Simmons: challenging the construction of identity

Celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs with a series of 20 articles on 20 featured artists.

Xaviera Simmons, born in New York in 1974, is one of the most accomplished artists of her generation and one of the most outspoken critics of a society that still cannot rid itself of systemic racism. 


Simmons, whose work was presented in the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze New York in 2016, works in a range of media, including photography, sculpture, performance, audio, and installation. She often incorporates music, language and sound into her work. Through her work, Simmons explores the construction of landscape, language, identity, and the complex history of the United States, which has been shaped by colonialism, slavery and racism.

For the series of photographic works that includes "Roberta Flack Black Afro" (2009), the artist, who is also a DJ, selected one hundred images of record covers from her collection of over four thousand records. In each image, Simmons poses in front of a different landscape, holding a record cover to her head. She once explained in an interview that when she listens to Grace Jones's version of "Use Me," she feels "like I'm walking through a thunderstorm and I'm crying”. The records are worn like masks, as in "Warm Leatherette" (2002) or "Roberta Flack Black Afro" (2009). Simmons covers her face and at the same time substitutes it for the iconic portrait on the album. In this way, her own identity symbolically merges with the culturally constructed persona of the cover. At the same time, the album is an image within an image, the photograph a patchwork, a construct of different layers, times, memories, a hybrid of portrait and landscape.  


In her most recent large-scale projects, poster actions and installations, which were recently featured in the exhibition "Crisis Makes a Book Club" at the Queens Museum in New York, she explores the cycle of exploding social violence and simultaneous political apathy that also characterises debates about white supremacist violence, civil rights, and democracy in the US.

About this article series

This article forms part of a special series celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs, taking a closer look at one of 20 artists we have collaborated with and whose work features in the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Deutsche Bank's commitment to art and culture

Deutsche Bank is the Global Lead Partner for Frieze art fairs, with 2023 marking the 20th year of the partnership. As part of its Art & Culture commitment, Deutsche Bank has supported and collected the work of cutting-edge, international artists for more than 40 years. A global leader in corporate art programs, the bank also runs an Artist of the Year programme, as well as its own cultural centre in Berlin, the PalaisPopulaire. All initiatives are based on the strong belief that engagement with art has a positive impact, not only on clients and staff but also on the communities in which the bank operates. Thus further collaborations such as the Deutsche Bank Frieze Los Angeles Film Award in the United States, The Art of Conversation in Italy, the Frieze x Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship in the United Kingdom, and the digital platform Art:LIVE, create access to contemporary art for people all around the world. Discover more here.


Please find more information on Deutsche Bank’s art programme at and follow us on Instagram @deutschebankart


Main image: Portrait, Xaviera Simmons, courtesy the artist & David Castillo.


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Deutsche Bank Art & Culture

Art & Culture

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