Julia Heyward

Julia Heyward, once known by the pseudonym "Duka Delight," is a multi-media artist whose performances and moving-image works orchestrate sound, language, and image into indelible symbolic compositions. Heyward's earliest performance and video art from the 1970s show the artist's expressive use of staging, cinematography, and her own charismatic presence and vocal techniques to deliver visceral monologues that have the blunt cadence and rawness of poetry.

As part of the vibrant '70s-era downtown art scene in New York City, Heyward's work cross-pollinated theater, vocal performance, spoken word readings, video art, and the then-emerging pop music video. Her choreography included evocative costuming and superimposed projections, as in her contribution to Jean Dupuy's Three Evenings on a Revolving Stage (1976), a performance event at Judson Memorial Church for which artists were invited to perform a short piece atop a two-foot diameter revolving stage. Dressed in a stylish gown, Heyward performed Shake Daddy Shake, a stirring invocation of her father, a Southern preacher with palsy.

Faith, spirituality, class and gender divisions, autobiographical and societal mythologies are just some of the larger themes that can be followed through Heyward's richly layered video performances, including Classic Conversations (1975), Conscious Knocks Unconscious (1977), This is My Blue Period (1977), and 360 (1981). At the center of all of them is Heyward herself, whose direct-camera addresses have an emotional intensity and vulnerability that strike a noticeably different chord than those in earlier-generation conceptual videos by artists such as John Baldessari, Eleanor Antin, or William Wegman. Her tone is less deadpan than it is trance-like, and her obtusely symbolic and associative props and sight gags have a stream-of-conscious flow that was influential on a number of artists, including Mike Kelley and Ericka Beckman.

In the 1980s, Heyward went on to direct a number of well-known music videos, including The Talking Heads' Burning Down the House (1983), which makes distinctive use of superimposed projections. She also performed in her own bands, and was briefly signed as a recording artist to Columbia Records, but left the label citing artistic differences. In 1984 Heyward won a Bessie for outstanding performance of the year for her loft performance, No Local Stops, which was later singled out in a New York Times article about the influence of rap and hip-hop on performance art.

Heyward was one of the artists represented in the Whitney Museum of American Art's important 2013 exhibition Rituals of Rented Island (curated by Jay Sanders), which surveyed performance artists, filmmakers, and collectives who staged homespun performances, often in their downtown lofts. In his review of the show, critic Holland Cotter noted Heyward's work, describing her as "powerful, with the charisma of a diva and the gut-punch timing of a Lenny Bruce."

Her most recent ongoing projects, including the ambitious triptych Nothing Random Access Memory and the panoramic 29 SpaceTime, a collaboration with Perry Hoberman that was presented at Roulette in 2014, have focused on digital and interactive technologies, engaging viewers in an updated iconography of surveillance technology, desert warfare, and the specter of manmade catastrophe.

Julia Heyward was born in 1949. She graduated with a BFA from Washington University, St. Louis, and participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1973. She received an MFA from the Department of the Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2003. In 1984 Heyward was one of the first artists to win the inaugural New York Dance and Performance Award known as the Bessie. She was nominated for a Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in the field of music composition in 1995, and in 2004-05 for film/video production. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Multimedia in 1999, as well as awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, The Greenwall Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. Her video work, performances, installations, and interactive projects have been exhibited internationally, at such venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Kitchen, Lincoln Center, and Anthology Film Archives, New York City; The Daejeon Municipal Museum in Korea; Art Interactive, Boston; Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City; and the K├╝nstlerhaus Stuttgart. Her first monographic study, Consciousness Knocks Unconscious, was curated by Jamie Stevens for The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco in 2014.

Heyward lives and works in New York City.