Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018

Solo en Inglès

“The hope was for me as an artist to lose control, and to have my control exist at the level of setting up the experiment.” —Ian Cheng

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018.

Mendi + Keith Obadike, The Interaction of Coloreds, 2002

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Keith Obadike: In 2002 we did a project for the Whitney called The Interaction of Coloreds.

Narrator: Keith Obadike.

Keith Obadike: And at the time when we made this piece, we really thought that people were optimistic, maybe a bit too optimistic about, how identity would work online. And so we wanted to push back against that a little bit with this project.

Mendi Obadike: We thought of The Interaction of Coloreds as an online brown paper bag test.

Keith Obadike: A brown paper bag test was something that was used against African Americans and by African Americans to regulate entry into institutions, places of business, social clubs. Right, so if your skin was lighter than the brown paper bag, you could enter the place. If your skin was darker, then you might be barred from entry.

Narrator: Mendi Obadike.

Mendi Obadike: So the project presents itself as a company that allows people to discern color in the web environment across browsers that might show color differently. Our company would assign a hex code for a distinct skin color, which was determined by photographs, and by a lengthy questionnaire that participants were asked to answer. And we also asked people to send us JPEGs of different parts of their body.

Keith Obadike: Right, so if you send in the photographs, then we would send you back a hex code number that represented the value, the exact color of your skin. So the idea is that this would be more precise than the kind of old-fashioned language we had around race and skin color.

A grid of four images showing people's hands, elbows, and hair.

Keith Obadike: In 2002 we did a project for the Whitney called The Interaction of Coloreds.

Narrator: Keith Obadike.

Keith Obadike: And at the time when we made this piece, we really thought that people were optimistic, maybe a bit too optimistic about, how identity would work online. And so we wanted to push back against that a little bit with this project.

Mendi Obadike: We thought of The Interaction of Coloreds as an online brown paper bag test.

Keith Obadike: A brown paper bag test was something that was used against African Americans and by African Americans to regulate entry into institutions, places of business, social clubs. Right, so if your skin was lighter than the brown paper bag, you could enter the place. If your skin was darker, then you might be barred from entry.

Narrator: Mendi Obadike.

Mendi Obadike: So the project presents itself as a company that allows people to discern color in the web environment across browsers that might show color differently. Our company would assign a hex code for a distinct skin color, which was determined by photographs, and by a lengthy questionnaire that participants were asked to answer. And we also asked people to send us JPEGs of different parts of their body.

Keith Obadike: Right, so if you send in the photographs, then we would send you back a hex code number that represented the value, the exact color of your skin. So the idea is that this would be more precise than the kind of old-fashioned language we had around race and skin color.


Mendi + Keith Obadike (Founded 1996), The Interaction of Coloreds, 2002 and 2018. HTML 5. JavaScript. Commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art for its artport website AP.2002.7