Three artists – an artist who has questioned institutional collecting.

Coco Fusco (1960- ) is a Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist and writer who began her career in 1988. Fusco performs and curates throughout America and internationally.

The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994) This was a collaborative performance piece that Coco Fusco carried out with Guillermo Gomez-Pena, which premiered at Columbus Plaza in Madrid. This was part of the Edge ’92 Biennial in May 1992. Over the following two years the piece was displayed in well-known art and natural history museums around the world. In the work, Fusco and Pena placed themselves on display in a ten-by-twelve foot cage, advertising that they were indigenous people from a fake island that was untouched by European culture. This fake island was called Gautinau. They dressed themselves in unusual, outrageous costume that they claimed to be representative of ‘the primitive’ and performed extravagant ‘savage’ tasks such as sewing voodoo dolls, and eating bananas which were passed to them through the cage by museum guards. They also performed for the audience; for a donation, Fusco would do a ‘native’ dance, in a fabricated language Pena would tell ‘native’ American stories and both artists took pictures with the crowd. Fusco dressed herself in a grass skirt, leopard skin bra, trainers and a baseball cap, and she also platted her hair. Gomez-Pena wore a breastplate, and a leopard skin wrestling mask. The pair carried out this exercise as part of a satirical commentary on the notion of discovery, an anti-quincentenary project protesting the official quincentenary celebrations of Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas. They both thought that finding historical justification for Columbus’s ‘discovery of the Americas’ had become a way in which Western culture could assert its right to consume. Their performances were interwoven with archival video of ethnographic displays from the past, giving an historical dimension to the artists’ social experiment. The Couple in the Cage provided a powerful blend of comic fiction and poignant reflection on the morality of treating people as exotic curiosities. The aim was to use the project to explore the limits of what they called ‘happy multiculturalism’ that seemed to dominate Western institutions. They also hoped to find an origin for the cultural link between the ideas of otherness and discovery. Their performance, they stated, was rooted in the American and European tradition of displaying indigenous people from other parts of the world in circuses, museums, and freak shows. Fusco describes in her book English is Broken Here the dynamic between the performers and the audience members: ‘The cage became a blank screen onto which audiences projected their fantasies of who and what we are. As we assumed the stereotypical role of the domesticated savage, many audience members felt entitled to assume the role of colonizer, only to find themselves uncomfortable with the implications of the game.’

Are they real natives?

References:

Wikipedia: Coco Fusco, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coco_Fusco [last accessed 22 October 2012]

Thing, http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/subpages/videos/subpages/couple/couple.html [last accessed 22 October 2012]

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