Thirty years ago Howardena Pindell was well known for meditative, process-based abstract art. It included drawings composed of sequences of numbers and words, and collagelike paintings made with thousands of punched-paper circles that seemed to float in clusters, like clouds, against grids of taut thread. There were handsome examples of such work in "Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964-1980" at the Studio Museum in Harlem last spring. And there are others in "In My Lifetime," a retrospective-style gallery show at G. R. N'Namdi.
But Ms. Pindell's art has always had two aspects. In 1980, at the same time she was doing abstract work, she made a short video, "Free, White and 21." In it she sat before the camera for 12 minutes and, in a simple, symbolic performance, delivered a devastating account of the enforced silence and invisibility that is racism. The piece addressed itself squarely to the art world, among other audiences. And it has a powerful successor in Adrian Piper's video installation "Out of the Corner," one of the highlights of the Whitney Museum's permanent-collection show "Full House."
Ms. Pindell has continued to produce abstract work over the years since, most recently in a series of exquisite small prints. But her painting also assumed and maintained an overtly political direction, in large-scale pieces that combined abstraction, words and figures to deal with social and political issues, from AIDS and homelessness to the war in Iraq.
These monumental pictures dominate the exhibition at N'Namdi. As polemics, they are uncompromising and implacable. But only when seen together, as they are here, does it become clear how thoroughly they are based on -- emerge from, are fueled and inflected by -- the individual experiences and memories of the artist herself, who is in her 60's. "The personal is political" is the cliché of an earlier era, the one in which Ms. Pindell's career began. It also happens to be true. And as she continues to produce her deeply personal and political art, her lifetime is our lifetime.