Race Reveal: Racialized Tropes, Queer Performance, Political Possibilities

Thursday, Oct 28, 2010 - Thursday, Oct 28, 2010 | 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley


Racialized Tropes, Queer Performance,
Political Possibilities

Thursday, Oct 28, 2010
12:00 pm – 5:00 pm

370 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Berkeley, CA


A symposium of performance studies scholars, artists, and activists focusing on contemporary and historical links between burlesque, minstrelsy, the geopolitics of performance, ethnic drag, and critical stage subjectivities.

Speakers include:
Abstracts Below!)

12:00 pm: Keynote Talk
Jayna Brown (UC Riverside)

1:30 pm: Pleasure, Power, Profit in Race Performance
Cecilio Cooper (UC Davis)
Prof. Amira Jarmakani (Georgia State University)
Prof. Tina Takemoto (California College of Arts)


Moderated by Prof. Mel Chen, (UC Berkeley)

2:45 pm: Roundtable on Queering Latin@ Subjectivities on Stage
Adelina Anthony
Prof. Juana Rodriguez (UC Berkeley)
Ivan Ramos (UC Berkeley)
Xandra Ibarra (
Kaleidoscope Productions
Moderated by Prof. Catrióna Rueda Esquebel (San Francisco State University)

4:00 pm: Racism, Mistrelsy, Subversion in Burlesque Performance:
A Community Discussion

facilitated by Prof. Amy Sueyoshi (San Francisco State University)

Co-sponsors: Gender Women’s Studies Department, Ethnic Studies Department, Chicano/Latino Studies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Beatrice Bain Research Group, Gender Equity Resource Center, Department of Rhetoric, American Cultures, Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies

Organized in collaboration with the fabulous Kaleidoscope Cabaret!

Saturday, Oct 30th
Doors open 7pm, Show 8pm
Brava Theater
2781 24th St., San Francisco




Keep Young and Beautiful: Health, Hygiene and the Heteronormative in the 1930’s Musical
Prof. Jayna Brown, UC Riverside

“I’m young and healthy, and so are you,” are the lyrics to a famous number in the 1933 musical film 42nd street. To this light and flirty song, a bevy of platinum blonde young women, the Goldwyn Girls, circle on a dais as the film’s principles share a most unguarded kiss. This may all seem harmless fun, no more than depression era escapism, but to be young, healthy, white and “fit to marry” was serious business in 1933. What I show in this presentation is the ways concepts of health, hygiene and the heteronormative were shaped and informed by a ubiquitous eugenics refrain. Like earlier iterations of a pseudo-science discourse on race, eugenics had been winding its way through popular cultural forms for decades. But in the 1930’s it took on new meaning. The chorus girls’ bright smiles and bare legs were a crucial performance of the healthy white body, of great iconic import to the eugenics movement. I also suggest that in the interstices of the historical record we can find counter-hegemonic performance practices, and gesture to the presence of black drag acts in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Opening Interruptus: Memoirs of Bjork-Geisha
Prof. Tina Takemoto, California College of the Arts

Drawing Complaint: Memoirs of Björk-Geisha was a guerilla performance by Tina Takemoto and Jennifer Parker staged during the opening of Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint at SFMOMA. The exhibition featured Barney and Björk as “Occidental Guests” who go to Japan to drink tea, fall in love, and turn into whales. Our intervention included unsolicited performances of fan dancing, samurai whaling, and chopstick hara-kiri amidst crowds of confused viewers and gallery guards who couldn’t determine whether we were part of the hired entertainment or not. This paper reflects on the successes and failures of Drawing Complaint in light of guerilla performance, Art World Orientalism, and its afterlife on YouTube.

Grammars and Repertoires of Queer Antiblackness
Cecilio Cooper, UC Davis

There are notes of resonance between the staging of U.S. national identities, enunciated through the rhetoric of self-possessed rights and freedoms, and the staging of queer/LGBT subjectivities. Queer cabaret genres, exemplified by neo-burlesque and drag-kinging, endure as performative engagements of broad sociopolitical concerns in excess of their ascribed value as escapist entertainment. Queer/LGBT appeals for recognition and incorporation into the national body are articulated through certain grammars of suffering, including appropriation of black figurative capacities (i.e., “gay is the new black”). Of their performance progenitors, neo-burlesque and drag-kinging can trace their lineage to blackface minstrelsy, a tradition animated by indifference to black misery. Certain racialized tropes are rehearsed to resilience through these distinct yet enmeshed genres of queer performance. While not reducing this to a discussion of practices or speech alone, this paper asks how repertoires of queer performance and grammars of queer suffering reveal the striking scope of antiblackness.

I’m Every Woman

In her performance work Narcissister employs image scavenging – the theft and deployment of representational codes. In her signature piece I’m Every Woman, Narcissister masters the sovereign artistry of the “remote” seductress; simultaneously rebuking a simplistic analysis of female performativity. Fast-forward to corporate media-saturated post-modernity, the female body, always a vulnerable personal space, becomes even more highly subject to a rotating script of global social imperatives regarding gender and sexuality. As Narcissister explores in I’m Every Woman, gender is a series of social investments manifest through intersubjective symbolic exchange. While spinning her naked, masked body on a stage to Chaka Khan’s famous anthem, Narcissister removes the “tease” from the strip as she slowly redresses herself from clothing she pulls out of various bodily orifices. Amidst such erotic spectacle this work drives its point home: woman cannot pretend to strip herself bare because as long as she is called “woman,” she can never be bare. Gender, as such, is inscribed on the body to symbolize and reproduce social order.

Narcissister’s expert use of self-generated media portend a black female subjectivity that challenges the fixed meanings of race, gender and sexuality. Her glittering accoutrements – larger than life hair, the assortment of baubles she pulls from bodily orifices, as well as the striking mask she wears during each show serve to enhance her simulacral play with gender, signifiers and spectacle. Heiress to the original genius of self-adoration Narcissus, the boy-come-flower who died in desperate longing to grasp his own reflection, Narcissister’s project offers a complex and nuanced critique of popular culture and its spurious conceptions of women. Through her clever appropriation of popular imagery, artist Narcissister pushes her audience to dismantle their own deeply held beliefs, ultimately restoring the critical faculty to the experience of visual pleasure in performance. What registers at surface level as a satire of exhibitionism and vanity ubiquitous to our image-obsessed celebrity culture, is at its core a powerful and genuine message of female empowerment in the spirit of sisterhood and self-respect.

Dancing to the Goddess Within: The Spectacle of Belly Dancing in Contemporary U.S. Popular Culture
Prof. Amira Jarmakani, Georgia State University

While belly dancing has remained popular in the United States to some extent since the late 1800s, its recent surge in popularity (especially in the exercise industry) offers an interesting counterpoint to the contemporaneous “war on terror.” Outlining the history of American belly dancing as informed by the processes of colonialism, consumerism, and liberal-feminist notions of empowerment, I note the ways in which contemporary appropriations of belly dancing in the U.S. are de-contextualized and de-historicized. In the bonus features section of comedienne Margaret Cho’s 2005 video Assassin, for example, one can find “Margaret Cho’s belly dance,” a non-comedic segment in which the irreverent, spunky, and controversial comedienne discusses the revolutionary potential of belly dancing as a means through which women can “define [their] own standard of beauty.” Cho presents an interesting case in that she is an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, and, further, Assassin is unapologetically and critically focused, in part, on exposing the hypocrisies of the “war on terror.” Nevertheless, in the extra features section of the DVD, she promulgates a stunningly mainstream and uncritical argument about belly dancing. Through this example, I explore the parallels between the rhetoric of freedom in popular articulations of American belly dancing and the deployment of the concept of freedom in the “war on terror.” Popular narratives of American belly dancing, I argue, (re)produce an inadvertent echo of the logic used to justify U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan; both focus on individual freedoms at the expense of any sustained consideration of systemic freedoms.

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