Enacting Others Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith Synopsis
The artists Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee have all crossed racial, ethnic, gender, and class boundaries in works that they have conceived and performed. Cherise Smith analyzes their complex engagements with issues of identity through close readings of a significant performance, or series of performances, by each artist. She examines Piper's public embodiment of the Mythic Being, a working-class black man, during the early 1970s; Antin's full-time existence as the fictitious black ballerina Eleanora Antinova for several weeks in 1981; and Smith's shifting among more than twenty characters of different ages and racial, ethnic, gender, and class backgrounds in Twilight: Los Angeles. She also considers Lee's performances of membership in cultural groups-including swing dancers, hip-hop devotees, skateboarders, drag queens, and yuppies-in her Projects series (1997-2001). The author historicizes the politics of identity by exploring each performance in relation to the discourses prevalent in the United States at the time of its development. She is attentive to how the artists manipulated clothing, mannerisms, voice, and other signs to negotiate their assumed identities. Cherise Smith argues that by drawing on conventions such as passing, blackface, minstrelsy, cross-dressing, and drag, they highlighted the constructedness and fluidity of identity and identifications. Enacting Others provides a provocative account of how race informs contemporary art and feminist performance practices.
Enacting Others Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith Press Reviews
Enacting Others is one of the most intriguing art history books in recent years. . . . This is a book of tremendous importance that will do much to advance our understandings of not only the four artists under consideration but also the cultural, artistic, social, and political particularities of the moments in which their work was produced. -- Eddie Chambers * Nka * Enacting Others offers a timely reminder of how shifting notions of identity have vitally shaped, and continue to reshape, American art and politics. Contributing to studies of race and gender, performance studies, and art history, Enacting Others explores how boundary-crossing performances by four prominent artists engaged with contemporaneous discourses about identity. -- Ju Yon Kim * Theatre Journal * Smith's clear prose and sharp-eyed observations make this book more than worthwhile for any reader. It leaves one pondering further how race is performed, staged, read, and recognized in the projects of an intriguing collection of important artists. -- Jennifer DeVere Brody * Modern Drama * Smith avoids models of progressivism or generational overthrow in favor of a cool, evidence-based analysis. Following the artists' tactics, the book moves from the relative simplicity of declaring singular, marked identity as a political position, through acknowledgment of intersectionality, to a universalist turn toward humanism, ending with postidentity positionalities. The strength of Smith's analysis is that it is alert to the continuing evolution of the politics of identity in art. -- Margo Hobbs Thompson * Signs * Smith carefully contextualizes the work of the artists within the their art-historical milieus while arguing for the limits of these framings. This [is a] careful contextual consideration. -- Patricia Ybarra * American Literature * Smith's study helps us continue necessary discussions of how to stage our struggles against oppressions of all kinds, as well as to contend with the limitations of our own vision. -- Jayna Brown * Art Journal * I welcome Smith's willingness to grapple with the ambivalent feelings these artworks provoke. -- Helena Rickitt * Times Higher Education Supplement * Cherise Smith writes eloquently against the notion of post-identity politics, using her understanding of the persistent `politics of identity' to trace the boundary-crossing practices of these four important artists. Smith discusses spectators' identification strategies, but keeps an astute critical eye on the material corporeal circumstances of living within identity at this particular historical moment. From minstrelsy to passing, drag to embodiment, Smith parses theoretical tropes to study performance as a laboratory for experiments with human identity. Using personal memory and theory alongside political insights, the book treats a useful range of examples, from popular culture, to film, to art historical performance, to performance in everyday life. Enacting Others makes a vital contribution to gender and critical race studies. -Jill Dolan, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater Enacting Others is both an important primer on performance and an exploration of the U.S. obsession with race and its formations. Through impressive studies of four artists, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee, Cherise Smith examines the remarkable reach of the embodied idea and the use of strategies from conceptual art to traditional theater, and tactics from cross-dressing to minstrelsy. Smith's voice is a welcome addition to writing on contemporary art. It will redefine how we understand performance's ability to display and address differentials of power. -Kellie Jones, author of EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art