Category Archives: Beauty

Performance Art or Protesting Act?


Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Johny ML


Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.

Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.

However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’

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Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.

It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.

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When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.

Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.

Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’

(Photos: Kalakakshi/Facebook & See-ming Lee ??? SML via Foter.com / CC BY-SA)

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ചായം പൂശിയ ഐക്യദാര്‍ഢ്യത്തിന്റെ ചെമ്പ് തെളിയുമ്പോള്‍

Why this Indian woman is using ‘blackface’ as solidarity

Here’s Why This Young Artist In Kerala Is Covering Herself In Black Paint For 100 Days

Paint Me Black


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    Johny ML

    Johny is a New Delhi-based art historian, critic, curator and writer.

     

 


 

Misogynoir: Where Racism and Sexism Meet


Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet

 | Monday 5 October 2015 

Activists argue that the prejudice against black women is ignored by mainstream feminism. But what are the corrosive stereotypes feeding it?


Serena Williams … victim to Twitter trolls.
 Serena Williams … victim to Twitter trolls. Photograph: IBL/REX Shutterstock

Last week, London nightclub Dstrkt was accused of turning away two young black women for being “too fat” and “too dark”, prompting a swift, strident response on social media. The club was quick to deny the allegations and the council equally quick to express its concern. News outlets went into overdrive, to find “voices” to give the incident context. In the Guardian, one writer explained that young black people often resort to unlikely methods to get into certain clubs – the kind, like Dstrkt in Soho, that aren’t really about the music anyway – while in the Independent, DJ Edward Adoo discussed the pervasive racism of London’s nightclubs as a matter of fact.

But what is alleged to have happened at Dstrkt isn’t just about race; the accused promoter is black. It’s about gender too. Discrimination, prejudice and unchecked fear aimed specifically at black women now has a name: misogynoir.

The term was coined in 2010 by gay black feminist American academic Moya Bailey, who defined it “to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at black women in American visual and popular culture”.

Since then black women – and some men – predominantly on social media, have taken ownership of the term, using it to describe prejudice experienced in a range of contexts.

“Misogynoir provides a racialised nuance that mainstream feminism wasn’t catching,” says black feminist commentator, Feminista Jones. “We are talking about misogyny, yes, but there is a specific misogyny that is aimed at black women and is uniquely detrimental to black women.”

She says it is both about racial and gender hatred and can be perpetuated by non-black people and by black men – it is the latter, Jones says, she experienced the most often. “In my campaigning on street harassment, I have been targeted because I am a black woman who is vocal. They don’t go to anybody from Hollaback or Stop Street Harassment [campaigns run by white women] … they will say I’m a traitor and call me a tool for white supremacy … just because I’m calling out their very targeted misogynoir.”

It’s not ideal, as the comedian The Kid Mero pointed out last week, “We gotta make up better terms for oppressive shit cuz ‘misogynoir’ sounds like a scandalous Cirque du Soleil Vegas show”. Still, the term has spread to Britain, where most recently, writer Maya Goodfellow discussed misogynoir on the online platform Media Diversified, in reference to the abuse Diane Abbott has received since her appointment as shadow international development secretary. Goodfellow concluded that “a black woman who challenges the status quo and won’t apologise for doing so will always be judged unfairly. Because too many, subconsciously, feel it’s not up to people ‘like her’ to be the voice of opposition.”

Of course, detractors will inevitably counter that bouncers abuse their power all the time and people of all races and gender have at some point been refused entry. And that as a politician, Abbott is fair game for ridicule and scorn. Both of those points are acceptable, but neither explain or invalidate the experiences of hostility that sit at the intersection between sexism and racism.

Diane Abbott … new job criticised.
 Diane Abbott … new job criticised. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At the heart of this concept are two corrosive stereotypes. The first characterises black people as animalistic, uncontrolled or uncontrollable, and is in part responsible for the concepts of the “angry or strong black woman”. These are used to deny pain and legitimise offence: “Oh, that unfair treatment you’ve received at work? You’ll get over it, you’re a strong black woman.” The second is that black women’s bodies are hypersexualised: the “sexy black woman” is all tits and twerking.

Few people in the public eye seem to have experienced this problem quite as much as Serena Williams. To the United States Tennis Association president, Katrina Adams – and countless others – Williams is the “greatest athlete of all time”. John McEnroe recently described her as “I think, the greatest player that ever lived”. But to the Twitter trolls she’s “a gorilla”, “more manly than any man”. As Marc Bain wrote in Quartz: “Only sexism and racism can explain why Serena Williams doesn’t earn more in endorsements.”

Misogynoir may also explain how American actor Nancy Lee Grahn can praise Patricia Arquette for using her Oscar speech to speak out about gender inequalities, but ridicule Viola Davis for doing the same thing, saying to the former: “Use your win to champion women. Make your moment matter. I like that.” But to the latter: “None of us get the respect we deserve. Emmys not venue for racial opportunity.”

Zalika Miller, Reisha, Tasha and Lin Mei on their way to Dstrkt nightclub in the West End
 Zalika Miller, Reisha, Tasha and Lin Mei on their way to Dstrkt nightclub in the West End Photograph: Lin Mei

It is because mainstream feminism has so often failed to recognise and include the experience of black and transgender women that terms such as misogynoir have been able to flourish in the shadow of feminism’s third wave. Grahn has since apologised on Twitter.

But the intention was never to use jargon to exclude the majority, in order to create safe space for the minority. Instead, argues Jones, the word is supposed to start a broader conversation. “If people want to dismiss it as jargon, it’s because they don’t want to be part of the conversation. [The term] is for everybody. We [black women] can talk until we are blue in the face but if nobody else is listening and nobody else is willing to work to make change, it really doesn’t do much for us.”

But misogynoir simply connects a new generation to the gap in the discourse on rights that abolitionist Sojourner Truth spoke of in her 1851 speech, Ain’t I a Woman. Then she told a gathering of feminists about her own needs that went unmet “betwixt the negro in the south and the white woman in the north, all talking about rights”. It has only taken 164 years to give Truth’s predicament a name. Here’s to hoping we don’t spend the next 164 discussing the term, while continuing to make excuses for the discrimination it describes.


‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance


‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance


The Truth in Black & White


The Truth in Black & White

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Illustration: Namaah / Arré