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The Box Marked 'Other'

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Kenya Robinson
Kenya Robinson

Because I am a snazzy dresser, and err on the side of volume when constructing my coiffures, I tend to attract amazing cocktail conversations. This is helpful, especially since these rapid dialogues often secure a studio visit or an invitation to the next cocktail party. One's ability to simultaneously maintain a lucid conversation while getting increasingly "inebriated" (I
believe that's French for "drunk") is a skill that most artistic geniuses must master. And, being an artistic genius myself, well, you know the rest... In either case, on the occasion of a recent "opening" (which is also French for "cocktail party") I was conversing with a certain gallerist with whom I have had a series of small email exchanges. She -- ahem -- he, who, given the public circumstances of this post, will be referred to as The Gallerist, espoused its(?) pleasure at meeting me in person and posited the usual request for images of my most recent work. To which I may have responded "google me, bitch" in a most endearing manner, feeling all artistic geniusey. A broad smile was surely involved, invoking a kind of minstrel affect, but without irony, of course.

Anywho, The Gallerist went on to explain how the strength of my personality was the most interesting aspect of my work, and, how it really viewed me as a performance artist, even though it really didn't know much about my practice.


I was confused. I thought, 'that's a mighty strong point of view coming from an individual without much of a connection to the work in my developing oeuvre'. But mostly that was my bruised ego talking, since The Gallerist rebuffed my request for an actual studio visit. It reminded me however, of this fascinating link between otherness and performance. To be clear, I hate performance art. I think it's a ridiculous waste of time. Most of the work in the genre reads like an excuse to ogle well formed, young looking (nude) bodies executing thinly veiled operations of sex.  Except, when it is not. Popular culture has informed me that richwhitepeople are on the freaky side, but in 'real life', certain individuals have managed to launder their voyeuristic fantasies through sanctioned spaces. In fact, the system is so well designed that many in this group write off their fetishist tendencies through 'membership fees' or 'charitable donations'.  But, when the force of the work manages to reveal something beyond the spectacle, the freaky shit doesn't matter as much. As an artist working in the performance medium, my conservative views make me passionately critical of it. I wonder what is gained by peddling personality as performance work, especially when so many artists are socially inept (see: "inebriated").

Fortunately, I am a southern belle, who was 'raised right' so my ease in social situations (i.e.
decorum) is the result of rigorous training, rather than a natural tendency brought upon my
blackness. I know, I know, black people are so very natural at things and have no connection to
what scholars would call American Social Cues, but trust me this level of fabulousity is the result of years of preparation, with a specific focus on interacting with white people (aka whitepeople). Knowing all of this, I am interested in how the self-imposed and applied category of 'performance' can trap artists, black artists in particular, into what I call the coonbox.

I have recently been informed that the oppressed really only have ownership over their
own bodies, which is why they in fact become snazzy dressers and sport high volume
coiffures. Dancing apparently figures prominently in this argument as well, and although
most of these "openings" do not include music, I suppose one could find rhythm in the din of
conversation. As many of the preeminent contemporary artists who are invited into the coonbox -- ahem -- performance space are women, queer, people of color or a combination of otherness, I suspect that it is a trap of some kind. A trap that seems to limit the fiscal rewards available, while distracting self-identifying members of these groups into feeling flattered by the notion that they are pleasant to be around, or at the very least, their bodies looked at and handled.

Well, I'm not falling for it. After performing a series of calculations I have determined that I have only one body. And while, as a black body it is of particular interest, loaded with historical implications and all of that, I choose to create (or demand, depending on what cocktail party I'm attending) spaces in which I can execute grand concepts on other bodies, plural. You know, conceptual and stuff. It's akin to the longevity of a male Hollywood director as opposed to the flash of a female Hollywood starlet. No pesky paparazzi, but with a standing reservation at Le Bernardin (that's French for "lucrative investment vehicle"). Kenya will still eat the cracker, but it's becoming less important to me that I be the person doing the chewing. Perhaps black performance art will not be confined by black bodies -- maybe even "whitewomen" could do it, or, dare a say it, a group of "whitemen" (that's French for "Artist").