Self-Portrait as a Nice White Lady

Adrian Piper (b. 1948) Self-Portrait as a Nice White Lady, 1995 Black and white autophoto with oil-crayon drawing 18 1/4 × 14 1/4 in. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase made possible by a gift from Barbara Karp Shuster, New York 2004.2.5

Interested in the expectations that race and gender place on the body, Adrian Piper titles this work Self-Portrait as a Nice White Lady. As a white-passing Black woman, Piper asks us to consider what it means to view her as a “nice” white woman. The image refutes its title by presenting Piper as herself, a Black woman, who cannot be reduced to being simply “nice.” The work’s text—“Whut choo lookin at, mofo?”—is a call to pay attention and confront how stereotypes inform the way we read people.