The displacement of the free body in the work by the artists Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi and Zanele Muholi
7 Aug 2019, 10:24 am
Focusing the analysis on the contemporary production by the artist Zanele Muholi and the critical text of the artist Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi on her performance action program leads us to bring to the text the power of thought of the feminist, lesbian and activist theorist in the fight for human rights, Audre Lorde. In one of her numerous communications, the author tells us that “the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation”. Audre Lorde provokes us to reflect on the role played by the visibility regimes built in societies with a legacy of slavery and accentuated racial inequalities, emphasizing that “in this country where racial difference creates a constant, although not explicit, distortion of vision, we Black women have been visible on the one hand, while on the other hand they have made us invisible by the depersonalization of racism”.
It is in this sense that thinking about the articulation of the practices of self-revelation and the contemporary artistic production of women from Africa and the African diaspora goes through identifying this production as self-determined, according to Lorde’s reflections, so that self-determination concerns the decision to define oneself, naming, speaking for oneself instead of being named and expressed by others and, therefore, representing oneself.
The productions of the artists Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi and Zanele Muholi articulate another order of visibility. They are productions that constitute themselves as self-revealed. They challenge the status quo they operate in the order of a colonial representation system under the aegis of policies of domination in their racialist, gender and sexuality expressions. Mattiuzzi and Muholi inscribe their productions in a self-determined and self-revealed perspective, putting in place other regimes of representation, operating with the logic of disorganization of the visibility roles crystallized by the authoritarianism of coloniality.
Zanele Muholi is a South African lesbian artist who calls herself a visual activist. Using the language of photography, Muholi promotes her visual activism in a self-revealed way, that is, she makes visible the presence of lesbians in the South African scene, since this presence is denied, brutalized and effortlessly unrecognized.
Following the thought of Audre Lorde in the text “Transforming silence into language and action”, “in the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear — fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation”. Zanele Muholi’s production represents a break with silence. Her series “Faces and Phases” (2006) brings to the surface all the potent eloquence of the presence, the voice, the recognition and the lesbian body in the urban South African context. Her aesthetic thinking overflows a circumscribed poetics in the first person, inaugurating another possibility to re-exist and exist both in the order of representation and in the order of representativeness.
In this series, Muholi focuses on the faces of several lesbian and black women, calling into question hegemonic discourses that determined the place of women of color and the denial of their plural expressions of sexuality. Muholi pluralizes the African subject in its complexity beyond the colonial discourse, activating the black female subject with a well-marked gender and with amplified sexuality, in addition to breaking colonialist projections that have always reduced the subjectivities of African peoples. By bringing to the forefront the representation of African and lesbian women, in a legalized post-racism context, which deprived and restricted the rights of the black majority of the population in favor of the small portion of the white population, Zanele Muholi imprints in her art a reworking of possible identities, setting the tone that this subjectivity is worthy of being presented and represented. Muholi’s portraits direct our gaze towards the real, that is, towards the understanding of the South African situation in relation to the persecutory practices undertaken by the practice of corrective rape as the main instrument of sexual coercion.
In this way, her poetics defies the standards of master normality, that is, the construct of normal built from colonization that determined whiteness, heterosexuality and the valorization of the male as a metaphor for understanding citizenship and humanity and, therefore, as the only subjects considered adequate to be represented.
Audre Lorde teaches us that even though we fear the visibility and its construct in a dynamic that depreciates and depersonalizes the black subject, we cannot truly live without visibility. At the same time that it makes us fragile (restricted and frozen representations), it also has the power to strengthen us (make ourselves visible, exist under our own terms).
Like Muholi in Africa, the artist Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi in her critical text on the performance “Só entro no jogo” [I only enter the game], held in 2013 in the city of Salvador, brings in her poetics a visibility construct of the presence of the Brazilian black woman. From the perspective of Capoeira’s epistemology, the performer puts her body into play. Now it is the black female body that plays with visibility, enhancing her complex self-revelation. The action program proposed by Mattiuzzi points to the perception and recognition of a constitutively challenging body. It considers that the black female body is historically a body built as a maximized body, perceived as a representation of restrictions and dehumanizations and at the same time as the possibility of desire.
Mattiuzzi presents a black female body that is agency, it is the body of self-determination that Audre Lorde talks about. The presence that the performer establishes in the public space encourages passersby around her to interact in a provocative way. The actions raised contaminate the responses generated by each participant. In a responsive attitude, each participant involved in the performance is assuming a challenging ethos, as if the audience and the performer’s body were transformed into a single body. By responsive attitude, I name the constructed interactions and responses that passersby compose together with the performer.
Mattiuzzi conforms through her action program in “Só entro no jogo” what Audre Lorde points out as the possibility of transforming silence into language and action as an act of self-revelation, in which visibility is also the locus of strengthening. I add that the presence and representation of the black female body in her own terms of presence validates the self-determination of black agencies against colonialist agency, and the aesthetic space is configured as an important strategy of reinvention and reenactment of race, as well as gender and sexuality. To think about presence and representation is, above all, to break with imposed silences and regimes of compacted visibilities.