This essay is a reflection on, as well as the completion of, an artistic and critical writing process with a curatorial outlook. Altogether, the artist’s work and the critic’s essay question the very space of social affliction as a place from which to position oneself or as a location from which to look for spaces to push back against— whether the space of the Caribbean, the sociospatial experience of blackness, or the spatial sense of the feminine self.
A query into Marlon Griffith’ use of projected images as proto-cinematic devices in some of his trademark processional performances ponders whether the ensuing effect functions as the necessary disembodiment of a practice that is no longer localized. In not to many words, it simply asks: How to be a masman from Japan?
A virtual exhibition in SFMOMA’s online magazine for the reopening of the museum outlines a theory of and curatorial methodology for processional performance, hints at the return of the body-in-motion from screen to stage to street, and elicits why the millenary display mode of the processional matters anew today—inside and outside the museum.
The artists in the exhibition EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean come from distinct historical backgrounds and artistic formations that do not preclude yet cannot be subsumed under the canonical histories of artistic performance, which are aligned with narrow Western modernist narratives long debunked by black Atlantic countercultural networks.
The reemergence of the mass public processional performance charts a history of black performance to be found not in the European avant-garde of the beginning of the last century but in the experience of slavery and colonialism, of independence struggles and civil rights movements.
A tongue-in-cheek reversal of the title of the famous 1953 movie Statues Also Die, and a radical rebuttal of performance art’s primitivist myth of origin, Masks Also Move provides an analysis of post-Independence contemporary African art practices from Edwige Aplogan, Meshac Gaba, Tchif and Zinkpè in Benin today.
As performance is recognized as central to contemporary art of the Caribbean, and as contemporary Caribbean art integrates more fully the global contemporary art world, Curating Carnival becomes an urgent proposition.
Is the recurring emergence of the carnivalesque in democratic protest movements a function of their efficiency at clearing the space for the work of the commons?
As much a site of resistance as a relational mode, the carnivalesque occupation of Wall Street is a symbolic struggle to break the high-low binarism that has besieged contemporary American society, whether in class or race.
By blending spectatorship and participation, Carnival realized the postmodern ideal of the viewer completing the artwork. By accommodating the growing crowds of the globalized art world, it updates that ideal to the scale and ethos of the twenty-first century.