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Singing & Signing: How Christine Sun Kim Brought Her Whitney-Biennial “Rage” to the Super Bowl

After making a powerful impression on me at last year’s Whitney Biennial with her six drawings of pie charts plotting Degrees of Deaf Rage, deaf artist Christine Sun Kim on Feb. 2 reached a much wider, more diverse audience—the attendees at the NFL’s Super Bowl. Standing mid-field (10 yards from the soloists) during the pregame festivities, she expressively signed “America the Beautiful” (sung by Yolanda Adams) and the National Anthem (Demi Lovato).

Sadly, my pregame speculation on Twitter (@CultureGrrl) about Kim’s expansively enacted, socially conscious performance art proved too prescient:

As it turned out, “Gridiron Rage” aptly described the emotions vented in Kim’s confrontational opinion piece, published the following day by the NY TimesI Performed at the Super Bowl. You Might Have Missed Me.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

To be honest, it was a huge disappointment—a missed opportunity in the struggle for media inclusiveness on a large scale. Though thrilled and excited to be on the field serving the deaf community, I was angry and exasperated….

Those watching on their televisions, computers and phones got a seriously truncated version.

Watching on both my smartphone and my TV, I saw her being introduced…

…after which there were a few shots of her signing “America the Beautiful”:

Screenshots by Lee Rosenbaum

…but I saw only one fleeting view of her during “The Star Spangled Banner.” If you’d like to see the bravura performance that her artworld fans and the hearing-impaired mostly missed, you can view her complete signing of each anthem on YouTubehere and here. At the very least, the national broadcast could have shown her as a picture-within-a-picture (in a reversal of the above format). That format was used within the stadium, for those attending the Super Bowl in person.

Starting with Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, the singing of the National Anthem during the pregame festivities has been translated into sign language for deaf sports fans. Kim was following in the footsteps of (among others) actors Marlee Matlin, Phyllis Frelich and John Maucere, to name three of the most famous. The list of all the Super Bowl singers and signers is here.

More manifestations of Kim’s frustrations with the general population’s insensitivity towards the hearing-impaired, as well as examples of her sound art (lullabies, which are listed here), can be encountered in her Off the Charts exhibition, now at the MIT List Visual Arts Center (to Apr. 12).

By now, you’ve probably seen this other Super Bowl-related misfire:

That embarrassing tweet soon got deleted and replaced by a geographically correct version.

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