Surveillance Punishment and The Black Psyche (2013)
M. Lamar examines the sexual politics that surround the surveillance of the black male body in Surveillance Punishment and The Black Psyche (2013). Set in the American South during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Lamar portrays a death row prisoner who sings about the historical legacy of black men being watched by white overseers. Performed in the tradition of the spiritual, the song’s narrative centers around a slave condemned to death for killing his master whom he loved. Throughout this plantation fantasy, Lamar explores the politics of interracial and same-sex desire from a black man’s point of view. As evidenced in the lyric “With his touch I felt free,” discipline becomes a form of pleasure rather than punishment. Here, Lamar reverses the power dynamic of the white male overseer’s gaze—the black slave associates his master’s watch with affection rather than persecution. As the song ends, the prisoner alludes to the prison-industrial complex as a form of modern-day slavery, while connecting the role that police surveillance plays in enforcing such oppression. For Lamar, blackness is always under surveillance and subject to punishment by white supremacy.
LAMAR is a composer working in music, performance, video, sculpture, and installation. Drawing from the Negro Spiritual, Lamar uses his operatic voice and piano playing to comment on the politics of blackness. He combines western classical music and dissonant black metal to create narratives of radical becomings. Lamar has presented work at the New Museum, MoMA PS1, Participant Inc., The Kitchen, and PS122, among other venues. He has received grants from Franklin Furnace (2013–14), Harpo Foundation (2014–2015), Rema Hort Mann Foundation (2015), and Material Vodka (2016). Lamar was the recipient of the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Music and Sound (2016). He holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and attended the Yale School of Art sculpture program before dropping out to pursue music. www.mlamar.com