THIS WEEKEND IS HOTTTTTTT WITH PERFORMANCE! Damn, the NYC performance art organizers are BRINGING IT ALL this weekend. I haven't seen this level of activity in quite sometime so....get out and support the work! I'll see you there.
What will we do, and how will we survive doing it?
Arahmaiani and Ayana Evans in performance during 21st Century Suffragettes at Grace Exhibition Space.
The term “suffragette” was coined in 1903 by London journalist Charles Hands to mock and ridicule members of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK. Long since reified, curator Jill McDermid uses the term to conceptualize a contemporary “suffragette” in her Spring performance art series at Grace Exhibition Space and Rosekill Farm, 21st Century Suffragettes. The right to vote is analogized here by a right to perform, to speak, to present viewpoints and personal histories, to effect change regarding the positions and situations of women around the world.
Performing on Friday, April 29 at Grace’s famed second-floor loft on Broadway, neither Arahmaiani Feisal (who goes only by Arahmaiani) and Ayana Evans claim to represent all women, or put forward any specific changes to legislature. Instead, their feminist activism is personal, social, and rooted in the political contexts of their embodied lives.
Arahmaiani appears initially without costume, without need for a signifying white dress favored by late Edwardian-era European suffragettes and previous performance artists in this series alike. She wears jeans and clogs and walks into the center of the performance space carrying a white candle and meditation bells. Matter-of-factly, she describes her history of persecution and political censorship in and forced expatriation from her home country of Indonesia.
She begins by stating simply that she will ask audience members to perform. Because, she says, “in 1983 I was forced to leave my home after being arrested by the military…”
As a woman with mixed religious background and as a columnist, artist, and human rights activist, criticism and challenge to fundamentalist Islamist military regimes in Indonesia and Malaysia have left Arahmaiani under attack throughout most of her adult life. She has received death threats (to “drink her blood”) due to her art works "Ëtalase" and "Lingga-Yoni" and her columns and writing about LGBT issues and Buddhism in the newspapers Suara Merdeka ("Voice of Independence") and Kompas have endangered herself and other members of all-women artist groups. Arahmaini has escaped to Sydney, Perth, and Singapore, each time she is attacked refusing to stop criticizing the politicians and corporations that, Arahmaini writes, are usually supporting radical Islamists, using fear and terror to distract people attention from the “real serious problems politically and economically.”
Arahmaiani references “morality police” (shariah law enforcers) near the end of her speech and we are reminded of the 2013 proclamation in Lhokseumawe that women must sit side-saddle on motorbikes, since straddling is “sexually suggestive,” “unfeminine” and “un-Islamic.” In this light, Arahmaiani’s casual and “masculine” performance garb make sense and appears to be far more political than it may seem to Western women; instead of bloomers and short-brim round late Edwardian hat, Arahmaiani presents herself partially through her lack of a headscarf, her bare forearms, her powerful gaze coolly pouring into the eyes of the audience members sitting, crouching, and standing in a semi-circle around her.
Last month I witnessed an evening of performance at Panoply Performance Lab in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Performancy Forum featured local artists: Huisi He, David Ian Griess, Sara Debevec, Jon Konkol and Emily Oliveira. Debevec embodied an anthropomorphized insect self. Griess looped home video in dedication to his grandmother. Konkol threw up condiments while yelling in German at his latex-blob children. He tiptoed barefoot thru active mousetraps while reciting self-affirmations on “making it“ in NYC. Lastly, Oliveira presented a complex, 3-part performance exploring female archetypes within Catholic doctrine.
Following Emily Oliveira’s performance, I spoke with fellow audience member and feminist artist powerhouse, Katya Grokhovsky about Oliveira’s piece. We mutually agreed on its success. The following day, a VERY heated online Facebook discussion began between several audience members about Oliveira’s work. Albeit somewhat difficult for me to negate individual names here - I have decided that since the online post/conversation was initiated with some anonymity (and has thus since been deleted) – I will keep individual names out of this post. But I will say, that the dissatisfaction and frustration toward Oliveira’s work stemmed mostly from male audience members. Several prominent performance art leaders within the Brooklyn community were polarized on the work. I thought to myself, WHOA! – I can’t believe I am reading such drastically different critiques on a work that I deemed so successful! Oliveira’s performance hit several nerves. So much so that a divide grew between Brooklyn’s intimate performance art community. Which, in my mind, really means something. Yes, critical dialog in performance art is much needed and the only thing missing in this discussion was the perspective of the artist. So... I reached out to Oliveira and offered an opportunity for her to discuss her intentions and respond to the FB critique. Since Performance Is Alive is devoted to sharing the words of the artist - I am delighted to share Emily Oliveira’s voice with you here. - QUINN DUKES
We'll keep the small talk to a minimum this week so you can absorb, memorize and commit to viewing these incredible performances in NYC this weekend. Hope to see you around! - Quinn
Thursday, January 28th
Saturday, January 30th
SHOUT OUT TO NON-NYC PERFORMANCE ART EVENTS this weekend >>>
QUINN DUKES is a Brooklyn, NY based performance artist, activist and curator.