Following on from the popularity of an earlier post – If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb – focusing on the work of Renée Cox this week’s video feature includes two clips, each containing an interview with artist Renée Cox recorded at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art on 22 October 2009. The first is a conversation with an audience led by former Spelman Cosby chair Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D., John Jay College, CUNY. The second is a one-on-one conversation that appears to have been filmed on the same day inside the Museum’s gallery space.
Each clip presents Cox ruminating on themes and driving forces behind her work including Race, Gender, Womanhood, Representation and Femininity. There are some overlaps in the conversation of each clip but also some interesting divergences.
The first conversation is pinned around specific works of Cox’s. It takes as its starting point the motivation for Cox’s work Hot-en-tot (1994) based on research she conducted which led her to find out about the “extraordinarily shocking histories” of human exhibition. Cox’s photographic work Hot-en-tot is inspired by the life and experiences of a Khosian woman, Saartje Baartman, who was objectified as a physiognomic curiosity and exhibited in Europe in the 19th century, as the ‘Hottentot Venus’. In Cox’s nude self-portrait her breasts and buttocks are covered with oversized prosthetic versions found for sale in a fancy dress shop. Cox discusses the power of the objectifying gaze and the importance for her in this, and other works, of revising history and creating a space to defy and return that gaze. Through revisiting Baartman’s body and the exploitative narrative that surrounded it – which became a potent symbol projected outwards onto the black female body as an abstract idea – Cox recreates, revises, and represents: A process that she employs through(out) her body (of work).
The second clip offers a more intimate and provocative discussion with Cox. She talks about the resonance of her work Queen Nanny of the Maroons (2004) which appeared in the exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool in 2010. Generally though, this conversation explores more broadly the social issues that “inspire and impact” her work as a whole. Here Cox discusses specific issues surrounding: education and intergration in the contemporary context of the United States and; the comparative importance of race and skin tone as identity in Jamaica and the United States. Cox encapsulates her bold and assured approach to creating as she winds up the interview stating: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb.”