The Other History of Intercultural Performance Essay

Coco Fusco approaches the means of intervention as an artist from a number of perspectives. As a means of exploring questions of what she terms ‘happy multiculturalism,’ Fusco engaged in a live performance piece where she literally went behind the bars of a golden cage. The underlining symbolic intention was to enact an interventionist art practice as a means of demonstrating subtle forms of racism in ethnographic research, with the cage functioning as a sort of observable cultural object. Inside the care, Fusco and her partner pretended to be Guatinauis from Gatineau. They took on various unique cultural practices that they would enact for observers for a price. Fusco noted that “our project concentrated on the ‘zero degrees’ of intercultural relations in an attempt to define a point of origin for the debates that link ‘discovery’ and ‘Otherness’ (Fusco, pg. 2). This practice was meant to mirror instances in the 19th century when such events actually took place.

During this period, it’s noted that the practice reinforced racial stereotypes and contributed to misguided foreign policy decisions. While the performance is ostensibly performance art, the artist notes that it failed in these regards as too many individuals took the fictional performance at face value. When Fusco refers to the ‘other’ history of intercultural performance there is clearly a pun on the term other as referring to both the cultural other and an alternative history of performance art. It’s clear within the context of this specific interventionist practice there is both the questioning of implicit racism within the anthropological observation, as well as a questioning of art’s history of exoticizing this otherness. The article references early 20th-century fetishism of primitive cultures, as Picasso and Matisse regularly incorporated such practices into their art as an aesthetic style. The nature of observation has also been a prominent area of artistic investigation notably in feminist film practices. In these contexts of understanding, one recognizes how this interventionist practice both questions the nature of racial stereotypes, as well as self-reflexively looks in on the nature of artistic expression. Another prominent consideration is the subjective reaction to the interventionist piece. Fusco notes that different individuals had different reactions, stating, “People of color who believed, at least initially, that the performance was real, at times expressed discomfort because of their identification with our situation” (Fusco, pg. 13). In these regards, the piece ultimately questions the nature of the human perspective and subjectivity.