Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Peña - 'Year of the White Bear, Two Undiscovered
Amerindians Visit Madrid', 1992 (1)
wanted to make sense out of the clashes between cultures that cause so
many of us so much trouble and pain, but I chose to do so within the realm
of art." Coco Fusco
Fusco is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and curator, who lives and
works in North America. For much of her work she draws on her Cuban heritage,
using language performance and multimedia to explore issues of difference
and cutural politics.
YEAR OF THE WHITE
She has worked with fellow Latino artist, Guillermo Gómez Peña
in a number of performances including "Year of the White Bear: Two
Undiscovered Amerindians Visit..."(see
left). In this piece, she and Gómez Peña dressed up as exotic
tribal figures from the 'undiscovered' island of ..., and displayed themselves
in a cage, in a number of major western cities. They were making reference
to the colonial practice (from the 16th right up to the 20th century)
of bringing native peoples back to western countries (Britain, France,
Portugal etc) where they were often put on display, much like the exotic
animals in the zoo.
The piece was first
conceived as a critical reaction to the Quincentanary celebrations in
Spain and the USA, which were planned to commemorate the 500 years since
Christopher Columbus 'discovered' the Americas.
In this performance
they did not speak, except to recount 'native' stories in a made-up language,
and were fed fruit and sandwiches through the cage bars, by guards who
also interpreted for them. The 'native traditions' they displayed in the
cage, included watching TV, sewing voodoo dolls and using a laptop computer.
For a small fee they would also pose with spectators for pictures. The
people who saw them in London, Madrid and New York, reacted in different
ways. Some saw the irony and realised it was a joke but many people thought
these were truly undiscovered people.
RIGHTS OF PASSAGE
Fusco has said
that she feels perfomance has become "...perhaps the most productive
area in the arts for challenging the boundaries between art and
politics."(ref) In 1996 she
did another performance piece at the Johannesburg Biennale (a two
yearly international exhibition of contemporary art, held in South
Africa), called "Rights of Passage." In this piece she
wore the uniform of the security personel and issued 5000 replicas
(which were also a limited edition 'artists' book') of the old South
African pass book, to all those entering the Biennale. In the days
of Apartheid, the white SA. government forced Black people to carry
passbooks which they had to show when they left the black townships
or entered the white areas.
visitors this was a new experience and acted as a comment on the
commodification, for tourists, of the apartheid legacy. For South
Africans it was an uncomfortable reminder of their recent past,
made more ironic by the presence of a non-white artist.
of Passage, 1996 (2)
Fusco's work very often involves performances which break conventions
or question stereotypes.
would you do or make, inspired by this artist's work?
is frequently used in comedy to make a poilitical as well as a funny
point (For example in the TV show 'Goodness Gracious Me'). What stereotypes
can you think of? Could you make a piece of work which uses an idea
or image of a stereotype?
is performance - is it art or theatre or sport of playing, or just a
part of life? Is it a disguise you adopt in order to 'fit in'.. or is
it a little of all those things? What if you worked with the drama department
developing performance techniques to express your feelings about a time
when you didn't fit in (to a group or place or situation.) Perhaps you
really wanted to fit in but couldn't or perhaps you were happy being