“Black-box theatricalists who snuck into the white cube.” That’s how the three-person art collective My Barbarian once described themselves to Artforum. The three are masters of their “Showcore” concept, which the Whitney Museum of American Art describes as “a queerly theatrical mode that uses genre play, storytelling and alter egos to reimagine contemporary fantasies.” The members of My Barbarian — two UCLA alumni, Malik Gaines ’96, Ph.D. ’11 and Alexandro Segade ’96, M.F.A. ’09, and groupmate Jade Gordon — have embodied all of these methods of creation and more for two decades. Their works incorporate DIY rock, Marxist critical theory, psychoanalysis and performance art, in addition to theatricality, visual art and video.​

Watch a clip from Silver Minds

Silver Minds is part of Double Future, which My Barbarian performed in February at the Whitney.

A recent survey by the Whitney in New York captured the trajectory of the group’s career to date. The exhibition culminated in Double Future, a double bill performance that premiered at REDCAT in Los Angeles in 2006. The two acts, You Were Born Poor and Poor You Will Die and Silver Minds, address issues of class struggle and environmental collapse and may be even more relevant today than when first performed.

As a UCLA art student, Segade worked in the interdisciplinary studio program with teachers such as Mary Kelly, Andrea Fraser, Lari Pittman and current Art Department Chair Catherine Opie.

“UCLA gave me a methodology to approach different ways of making art,” says Segade, now an assistant professor of visual arts at UC San Diego.

Courtesy of My Barbarian
Medieval morality drawings, created as designs for the medieval dolls in the Whitney exhibition.

Gaines, the son of leading conceptual artist Charles Gaines, studied history as an undergraduate and returned to UCLA for a doctorate in theater and performance art. Now an associate professor of performance studies at NYU Tisch, Gaines says, “I was a Black kid in a white society who was alienated and confused. I benefited from affirmative action policies in California, which made UCLA a much Blacker space then. When I came back for grad school, it no longer was the same.”

How have these artists created together for more than 20 years? Gaines thinks the openness and risk-taking of the project have sustained them. There’s immense respect among the three.

Over the years, they’ve performed “in the craziest places — a KGB prison cell in Lithuania, a boat on the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, a town house in Cairo,” Gaines says. “We’ve had a lot of really intense experiences together, so we’ve been able to grow together and keep that communication going.”

The final part of the Whitney project is still to come. A newly commissioned teleplay, Rose Bird, follows the career of the first female chief justice of the California Supreme Court and will premiere in late 2023. The entire exhibition will appear at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles next fall.

Watch Songbook, a 120-minute performed archive

Read more from UCLA Magazine's April 2022 issue.