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James Webb: Prayer



Prayer is an ongoing project, remade around the world since its first presentation in Webb’s home city of Cape Town in 2000. The Chicago version is the 10th and largest to date, as well as the first in North America. The work consists of recordings of prayer from individuals who belong to dozens of faiths and spiritual affinities in the host city. Listeners are invited to remove their shoes and walk the length of the carpet, composing their own arrangement of voices as they go, or to kneel or otherwise lower themselves next to a speaker to listen more closely to particular prayers. The spare though colorful installation has the austerity of a work of Minimal art and the enveloping richness of a choral concert.

A man kneels head to the floor next to speaker as he experiences James Webb's installation Prayer.

James Webb. Installation view of Prayer (Johannesburg), 2012. Photo by Anthea Pokroy. © James Webb. Courtesy of blank projects and Galerie Imane Farès.

An experimental musician and visual artist with a degree in comparative religion, Webb initiated Prayer in Cape Town five years after his country ended its practice of apartheid. The word apartheid means segregation; Webb has created a work that emphatically brings people together. Prayers articulate a basic wish for communion and often serve to solidify a community of faith in a place of worship. By deliberately gathering prayers from a variety of neighborhoods and spiritual practices and naming each of the participants and congregations, Webb aims to join together inhabitants of his host city.

The process for creating Prayer is collaborative and rooted in the place where it is installed. All participation by faith members is voluntary, and each community has received a copy of the recording for their own use.

Please be advised that this sound installation contains:

  • Human voices played at a relatively high volume
  • Unsynchronized, layered vocal sounds


This exhibition is made possible by the Artworkers Retirement Society. In-kind support is provided by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


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