Artworks and Artists of Identity Art & Identity Politics
This installation is comprised of a large triangular ceremonial banquet table set with 39 place settings, each of which commemorates a significant woman from history. Each of the three sides (or "wings") of the triangle represent a different period from history. Wing I includes women from Prehistory to the Roman Empire, such as Primordial Goddess, Fertile Goddess, Ishtar, Kali. Wing II includes women from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation (for example, Marcella, Saint Bridget, Theodora), and Wing III includes women from the American Revolution to more contemporary feminist thinkers, including Anne Hutchinson, Sacajawea, Caroline Herschel, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, among others). Each place setting features elaborately embroidered runners, featuring a variety of needlework styles and techniques, gold chalices and flatware, napkin with gold edges, and hand-painted china porcelain plates that contain raised vulva and butterfly forms (each of which was created in a style that represents the individual woman the place setting was made for).
Chicago completed this work over the course of five years with the assistance of over a hundred volunteers and artisans (male and female). It was first exhibited in 1979 and is now permanently located at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Chicago's goal with the work was to "end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record." She came up with the idea while attending a dinner party in 1974, at which, she recalls, "The men at the table were all professors, and the women all had doctorates but weren't professors. The women had all the talent, and they sat there silent while the men held forth. I started thinking that women have never had a Last Supper, but they have had dinner parties." Women were selected for inclusion based upon the following criteria: making a worthwhile contribution to society, striving to improve the situations of other women, making an impact on women's history, and serving as a role model for a "more egalitarian future".
Dinner Party was a watershed moment for the centralization of female stories within an artworld context. It also provoked significant discussion around the correct way to represent women and their experiences. Although not universally praised by feminist critics (due to what some view as its essentialism), the piece asserted powerfully the necessity of engaging with female stories and brought into sharp relief the politics behind their previous exclusion. The work serves as an example of how women/feminist artists attempted to revise the (art) historical canon, calling attention to the historical accomplishments of women as a way to challenge the male-dominated nature of history writing. Such questioning provided a seed for other ways of dismantling assumptions around "talent" and artistic greatness that had been used to hinder the visibility of other minority groups in the art world, such as artists of color. Widely recognized as a classic of Feminist Art, Dinner Party can also be understood as an important precursor to Identity Art.
Ceramic, porcelain, and textile installation - Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Black Factory Archive
A traveling caravan, a community engagement initiative, a catalyst for conversation, Pope.L's The Black Factory Archive invites participation wherever his white truck stops with a deceptively simple proposition: Passers-by are asked to contribute an object that represents "blackness" to them. This process opens up space for reflection about which objects are associated with blackness (and why?) and what kind of history, social construction, and stereotyping are involved in the inscription of identity onto objects. Nearby, a gift shop is set up with everyday consumables and objects such as canned foods, bottled waters, t-shirts, and the ubiquitous yellow rubber duckies labeled The Black Factory. His truck always travels with a group of "staff"/performers, who "operate" the Factory, act out skits, and interact with the public. "The idea," the artist reflected, "is to maybe bring back some sense of a public square kind of atmosphere....You want people to feel that they can enter the discussion. At the same time, I don't want them to get the idea that the discussion is going to be easy."
While racial identity is often seen as inherent based on biological markers such as skin color, historians and theorists have shown how the category of "race" itself was a social construct that only emerged from the eighteenth century onward, with the confluence of Enlightenment classification thinking and the white subjugation of peoples racialized as Other and therefore "savage" and inferior. The history - and continuing reverberations--of slavery in America is inextricably tied with this theory of race. Born in 1955, African-American Pope.L makes provocative works drawing on performance, public intervention, and other mediums that confront viewers with America's slavery past and the present experience of blackness today. By asking an open-ended question about identity, the Black Factory Archive demonstrates the multiple viewpoints that can be brought to bear on an identity. It also highlights how, in addition to individual and collective histories, material culture, too, plays a crucial role in the shaping of identity and vice versa.
Performance and moving installation - Museum of Modern Art
In this performance, Luna lay in an exhibition case in the section on the Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego's Museum of Man wearing only a leather loincloth. Around his body, he placed labels describing the origins of his various scars (for instance, "excessive fighting" and "drinking"), as well as several personal effects, including ritual objects used currently on the La Jolla reservation, where Luna lived. Also included were Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix records, shoes, political buttons, college diplomas, and divorce papers. Luna lay in the case for several days during the opening hours of the museum, occasionally surprising visitors by moving or opening his eyes to look at them.
Luna (1950-2018) was a Payómkawichum, Ipi, and Mexican-American artist, born in Orange, California, who moved to the La Jolla Indian Reservation in California at the age of 25. The following year, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Irvine, and seven years later a Master of Science degree in counselling from San Diego State University. His goal with this work was to bring attention to how cultural institutions tended to romanticize or present indigenous culture as extinct, lost, or pure and untouched by change. As art critic Jean Fisher writes, Luna was thus exposing "the necrophilous codes of the museum," that is, the way that cultural institutions make corpses out of living Indigenous peoples and cultures. Luna remarked: "I had long looked at representation of our peoples in museums and they all dwelled in the past. They were one-sided. We were simply objects among bones, bones among objects, and then signed and sealed with a date." By directly confronting museum-goers with his own living, breathing body, he forced them into a jarring moment in which they had to confront their own ethnographic assumptions and prejudices. He recalled that many of the visitors spoke about him as if he weren't there, even after they realized he was, in fact, alive.
The array of ritual and secular objects with which he surrounded himself served to further emphasize the hybrid reality of contemporary indigenous life and culture. He said of the work, "In the United States, we Indians have been forced, by various means, to live up to the ideals of what 'Being an Indian' is to the general public: In art, it means the work 'Looked Indian', and that look was controlled by the market. If the market said that it (my work) did not look 'Indian,' then it did not sell. If it did not sell, then it wasn't Indian. I think somewhere in the mass, many Indian artists forgot who they were by doing work that had nothing to do with their tribe, by doing work that did not tell about their existence in the world today, and by doing work for others and not for themselves." Luna went on to explain that "It is my feeling that artwork in the medias of Performance and Installation offers an opportunity like no other for Indian people to express themselves in traditional art forms of ceremony, dance, oral, traditions and contemporary thought, without compromise. Within these (nontraditional) spaces, one can use a variety of media, such as found/made objects, sounds, video and slides so that there is no limit to how and what is expressed." In this way, he challenged the white gaze that objectifies others, such as Native Americans. As Fisher writes, Luna aimed to "disarm the voyeuristic gaze and deny it its structuring power," by placing himself in a position of power (as he was in control of when and to whom he chose to reveal his 'aliveness,' thereby implicating museum-goers in the performance without their previous knowledge or consent). This strategy has also been undertaken by other indigenous artists and artists of color, most notably Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Coco Fusco, and the performance group La Pocha Nostra.
Performance - San Diego Museum of Man
Rainbow Series # 14
This image uses collage to splice together images taken from postcard photographs produced in South Africa in the 1990s and Western pornography. A bizarre hybrid creature is thus created, comprised of a Black African topless female from the waist up, and a white naked female from the waist down, wearing knee-high red leather boots and thigh-high red fishnet stockings. The white female hand, with red painted fingernails, provocatively reaches around her buttocks to hold open her vagina to the viewer.
South African artist Candice Breitz was born in Johannesburg in 1972, and currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany where she also works as a professor at the Braunschweig University of Art. In Rainbow Series, Breitz explored and critiqued the competing cultural representations of, and influences on, post-Apartheid South Africa. In the wake of Apartheid, South Africa sought to re-negotiate its identity as the "Rainbow nation" (a national slogan adopted for a time in the 1990s), that is, a country in which individuals and communities of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds co-existed peacefully. Part of this project involved the production of tourist postcards, many of which presented indigenous-looking Black Africans in rural settings. The images, however, were carefully constructed, and used models rather than "real" people. At the same time, South Africa was beginning to open its doors to foreign media, which led to the importation of a significant amount of Western pornography. Thus, during the 1990s, South Africans were flooded with highly sexualized images that almost exclusively featured white women. Breitz stated that the images in the Rainbow Series "were my response to the contagious post-Apartheid metaphor of a South African 'Rainbow Nation,' a metaphor which tends to elide significant cultural differences amongst South Africans in favour of the construction of a homogeneous and somehow cohesive national subject."
The photomontage technique used by Breitz in this series is anything but polished, with her cuts between the images harsh and crude. For Breitz, this method served as a metaphor for the violence that continues to be carried out against women, as well as the ongoing, tumultuous process of identity negotiation in South Africa. As Brietz said, "It probably has something to do with my constant awareness of just how many women are getting cut up out there, literally or otherwise. [...] The Rainbow People are reconstituted as violently sutured exquisite corpses, fragmented and scarred by their multiple identities. They are far from the romanticised hybrid imagined by certain postmodern writers; or the seamless, slick, computer-generated images which some artists produce. Rather, at a time when porn is (at least for the moment) freely available in South Africa for the first time in decades, and when inner Johannesburg maintains the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rape and murder rates in the world, this series is, specifically, a perverse take on the composite subject making up the imaginary tribe which is said to populate the "New" South Africa." This use of photomontage is an example détournement, a Situationist strategy that re-uses preexisting media in a way that is critical of or oppositional to the original.
With The Rainbow Series, Breitz calls attention to intersectionality, or the multiple, overlapping, inextricable aspects of identity that complicate one another, such as the way that gender identity is further complicated by racial identity. In a 1996 interview she reflected that "Although we're focusing our conversation on gender here, I think the discussion must be extended to other struggles around identity, for example race or class or ethnicity. A feminism that does not take these struggles into account is not going to have any real power. We all experience multiple forms of identification, and our identity position is never exclusively 'male' or 'female' or 'black' or 'white.'"
Stories of a Body
This performance begins in a pitch-black room, and as the darkness and silence begin to grow uncomfortable for the audience, Duffy emerges, naked and harshly spot-lit from the front. Audience members are confronted by Duffy's "severely disabled" body, which bears a considerable likeness to the Venus de Milo, raising the ironic observation that one of art history's most iconic representations of feminine beauty is, in fact, armless.
Mary Duffy (born 1961) was one of the key figures in the development of Disability Arts in the UK. She is an Irish painter and performance artist who graduated from the National College of Art and Design in 1983 and went on to complete a Master's degree in Equality Studies from University College Dublin. In 2003, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the National University of Ireland in recognition of her contributions to the international Disability Arts movement. Duffy was born without arms as a result of thalidomide poisoning. Thalidomide was frequently prescribed in the 1950s and early 1960s for the treatment of nausea during pregnancy. It was later discovered that the use of thalidomide during pregnancy frequently resulted in severe birth defects. From a young age, Duffy became adept at using her feet and toes to perform many of the tasks typically performed with hands, including drawing and painting.
Duffy recognized that the vast majority of representations of disability had not only been created by non-disabled individuals, but that they also had contributed to widespread and overwhelmingly deleterious attitudes toward understandings of disability. She writes, "In 1980, while at art college, I began to look at, and to question, my own fragile identity as someone who was very definitely different, disabled, and therefore, without any relevant cultural reference points. There were disability reference points all right, but they had been created by non-disabled people and regarded disabled people as tragic, pathetic, or brave. These images were so far removed from my own experience, I had to search for an image of disability I could be proud of, an image that did not reek of emotion or pity, an image that reflected disability as being a part of being human and all the richness and diversity that that entails."
Duffy performed this work at numerous venues between 1990-2000. Writing about the motivations and intentions behind Stories of a Body, she states "...in doing this performance, by standing here, naked in front of you, I am trying to hold up a mirror for you, I am making you question the nature of your voyeurism." In this way, Duffy's performance sought to challenge the particular mode of looking, or rather "staring" that historically characterized, and continues to characterize, visual encounters between the able-bodied and the visibly disabled. Duffy thus challenged viewers to recognize identity, disability, and difference as constituted through processes of looking and staring.
According to Critical Disability Studies scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, "staring" is an "intense form of looking [that] constitutes disability identity by manifesting the power relations between the subject positions of disabled and able-bodied." Garland-Thomson notes that "Staring at disability choreographs a visual relation between a spectator and a spectacle [...] By intensely telescoping looking toward the physical signifier for disability, staring creates an awkward partnership that estranges and discomforts both viewer and viewed [...] Because staring at disability is considered illicit looking, the disabled body is at once the to-be-looked-at and not-to-be-looked-at, further dramatizing the staring encounter by making viewers furtive and the viewed defensive. Staring thus creates disability as a state of absolute difference rather than simply one more variation in human form."
Performance - International Touring from 1990
Becoming an Image
In this performance originally carried out at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles, a 1500-lb block of clay sat in the center of a pitch-black room. Canadian, gender non-conforming and transmasculine artist Cassils proceeded to physically modify the block using the force of their own body, kicking and punching the clay in order to alter its form for 24 minutes. Photographs of the performance, which went on to be shown in other exhibitions of Cassils' work (alongside the modified blocks of clay), present the artist in the throes of this strenuous activity, grimacing and dripping sweat. Audio of the performance was also recorded and presented at subsequent exhibitions, with the sound of Cassils' physical exertion presented as an integral part of the work.
Cassils trained with a professional Muay Thai boxer to prepare for the performance in which they physically attacked the block of clay. Through the intense effort it required to physically re-shape the clay, Cassils offered a commentary on the amount of work it takes to develop and maintain one's body, and simultaneously, one's identity. The violence of their activity also alludes to the violence experienced by trans individuals around the world. Indeed, Cassils understands the modified block of clay as a monument to trans people's perseverance and fortitude.
The performance was carefully constructed to withhold full visibility from the viewer. Sporadic camera flashes from collaborator Manuel Vason illuminated Cassils for only brief moments, providing viewers with mere glimpses of the intense performance. This setting may be understood as a metaphor for the difficulty of seeing the work and endurance of trans people for cisgender individuals.
Performance - ONE Archives, LA / International Touring