Undisovered Amerindians

Undisovered Amerindians
In order to address the widespread practice of human displays, Fusco and Gomez-Peña enclosed their own bodies in a ten-by -twelve-foot cage and presented themselves as two previously unknown "specimens representative of the Guatinaui people" in the performance piece "Undiscovered Amerindians." Inside the cage Fusco and Peña outfitted themselves in outrageous costumes and preoccupied themselves with performing equally outlandish "native" tasks. Gomez-Peña was dressed in an Aztec style breastplate, complete with a leopard skin face wrestler's mask. Fusco, in some of her performances, donned a grass skirt, leopard skin bra, baseball cap, and sneakers. She also braided her hair, a readily identifiable sign of "native authenticity."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coco Fusco

Coco Fusco is a prolific multimedia artist, writer, and professor. She holds a B.A. from Brown University in Literature and Society/ Semiotics, and M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University, and a PhD in Art & Visual Culture from Middlesex University. She is Cuban-American, and race and international relations feature heavily in her work. 

Coco has a huge, varied, and impressive body of work, but for this particular exploration, I will choose a few works to concentrate on that struck me as pertinent to this course. I will first say that her website is quite extensive, and is comparable to an online museum in and of itself. Many of her works are cataloged and well organized, with extensive descriptive texts to accompany them. Coco is not the type of artist who wants to hide her intentions or research - this information is shared quite freely, and invites her audience to join her in her subject matter, as a museum might do, rather than keep us at arms length. 

 The first work I will focus on is a 1997 performance titled Better Yet When Dead. For this piece, Coco transformed the gallery into a funeral parlor, casting herself as the mourned, and holding wakes while taking on the persona of various deceased female cultural figures. The inspiration for this piece came in response to the media sensation following the death of Selena. This led Coco on a train of thought which explored the trend of such sensation. Coco wonders "why Latino cultures in the north and south are so fascinated with female creativity once it has been forever silenced". She found other examples which fit her theory, including Ana Mendieta, Cuban film maker Sara Gomez, and Frida Kahlo, who only after violent or unexpected deaths did their work receive a heightened level of acclaim. 
I found this to be an interesting subversion, within the very same institutional walls that played into these shifts in attention. Holding a wake for a dead artist in a gallery space that also acclaims the dead artist, rather than giving that same recognition to the living female artist. 

The next work I would like to bring up is a performance titled Rights of Passage. Originally conceived as a site-specific performance for the Johannesburg Biennial in 1997, the piece addresses "race, space and power in the post-apartheid era". It takes into account the specificity of existing in a museum in a couple different ways. Firstly, Coco dons museum security guard attire. In the entryway of the museum, she arranged a station from which to distribute passbooks, replicas of the passbooks forced upon Africans in apartheid times to show when entering white areas. These particular passbooks served as proof of payment for museum entry, an artwork, and a documentation of the performance. Five-thousand copies were made and distributed. I believe that this commodification of such a historical reference works on multiple levels, including contemporary peoples relationship to the past, the souvenir aspect of historical references, as well in bringing into question how racial discrepancies exist within museums.

Lastly, I'd like to briefly touch upon another performance Coco did in collaboration with Juan Pablo Ballester and Maria Elena Escalona at the 1997 ARCO Latino Art Fair., titled Sudaca Enterprises. While not directly a museum-based work, I believe this performance still holds important guerrilla relationships with the "art world" as a larger entity than just the museum. For this performance, the three sold t-shirts at the art fair, without paying the fee for a booth, and were ejected multiple times. First for not paying, second for not selling from an unofficial booth, and lastly for wearing masks to obsure their identities. "The t-shirt text compares and contrasts the price of Latin American art in Europe and the cost of selling it at ARCO with the cost of surviving as an undocumented Latin American immigrant in Spain". Nonetheless, all the t-shirts they made sold, and at least two are now in museum collections. In a sense, the same basic governing body (the institutionalized art world) that expelled them from the art fair later condoned and encouraged this rogue behavior, like an inconsistent parent sending it's child mixed messages of approval and denial. 

Overall, I would say that Coco Fusco works amiably with, and within, museums. I do not believe her intent is to cast them in a negative light, despite her subversion. I believe she is an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent woman, and such a mind cannot avoid reexamining the artist/museum relationship, and she does so sharply.   

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