Li Sumpter is new to the creation of immersive art installations, but she quickly fell in love with the concept. Her latest creation, “Time Bandit of the 7th Ward” debuted last week at Rex at the Royal. Sumpter designed the work as a story-based gaming and immersive art experience.
“I decided to lean into my own practice as an artist and thought about ways that I could deepen my engagement through installations that would actually seem immersive,” said Sumpter. “When you create installations it kind of gives you the opportunity to walk into that environment, even if it no longer exists.”
It’s the second installation in the “Legacy Reclaimed” series, a new public-private initiative that aims to revive the deep rooted history of the 7th Ward for a new generation. The project honors the cultural contributions, religious institutions, and civic activism of the majority Black voting ward.
The title “Time Bandit of the 7th Ward” comes from a childhood memory with her father. She used to hang out with her dad at a bar he frequently visited. The bar on South Street was a place where many artists would collaborate and get together.
“We would hang out and play the pinball machines and the slot machines and get really hyped up on sugar,” said Sumpter. “My dad would give us endless quarters and nickels to play and would say, ‘The one armed bandit is taking all of your money.’”
The one armed bandit is a colloquial term for a slot machine. Sumpter has always loved the idea of maps and time travel and felt like the name “bandit” just made sense.
The art installation features work from Sumpter’s latest chapter of the transmedia narrative Graffiti in the Grass, Illadelph Dreams: 2045. The artifact takes the form of a fully functioning 1910 Bell Mills vintage slot machine running on 5-cent nickels. It features the century-old machinery, but includes six new symbols on the dials.
Sumpter comes from a family of artists and educators and wants to be a key part of their legacy.
“In a world that is dark and scary it’s important to provide stories of hope and light and possibility. It’s really important for me to share these stories especially for Black and brown people.”
Sumpter also draws inspiration for the “Time Bandit” from her father, Phil Sumpter, an artist and sculptor who resided and worked in the 7th Ward for several decades. Her dad was a member of the 7th Ward and his love for the neighborhood was evident.
“My dad loved where he lived. He walked everywhere, he knew everybody on every block. Philly is definitely part of his blood and history.”
Throughout Sumpter’s installations, her fathers ideas and concepts really shine through. He also shared his photographs from the 7th Ward that are featured throughout the piece.
“It’s a blessing to be able to offer this as a seed that can begin the idea of creating a legacy for my family.”
If you are visiting The Rex or go to the 7th Ward website, you can scan a QR code to complete a brief survey that will serve as an entry and a chance to win a Time Bandit prize.
Prize drawings will be announced live at various on-site activations at The Rex, on social media, and during special Legacy Reclaimed guided tours. Those who enter the contest do not need to be present to win a prize.
Additionally, private tours for students and youth groups are available on Thursdays and Fridays through February and can be arranged accordingly. The “Time Bandit” will remain open until February 17, 2024.