The Huffington Post reports that “The Guerrilla Girls Are The Masked Avengers The Art World Still Needs.” How at once true and enlivening. If I were an artist, I might strip and try to get into New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art. I imagine myself, au natural but for gorilla mask, walking through the Met’s stately arched doors before being escorted out and charged with the indecency of a recumbent nude.
But what I’m after right now isn’t artistic freedom. I want more than fair presentation or representation. I want freedom for and control over my body. The problem is the state wants it too: Tennessee wants to shame women away from if not close abortion clinics. Alabama appoints lawyers to fetuses and tries women who seek abortions. Mississippi prosecutes women for stillbirths. I can’t imagine a 21st century in which American women are chained to and even imprisoned for our bodies. But in the South, it seems we’re already there.
I need more than a gorilla mask to fight for my body. But short of an at least patriotically costumed if not masked avenger, what will save women’s rights?
And what kind of mask or heroism do black men need to win the fight for their bodies? A few days ago, 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was attacked by a man parodying heroism:
The above clip of the law abiding and almost senior citizen Daniels being assaulted by three white men is dishearteningly reminiscent of John Crawford’s recent assassination in another Walmart:
Guilty of nothing but blackness, Daniels and Crawford are attacked, not protected, by an avenger – but not one we need or hope for. Rather than a mask, this kind of avenger wears unmasked racism. For Daniels and Crawford, the would-be hero is just another white man who in one act accuses and attacks blackness.
Recents attacks on men because their bodies are black and on women for exercising control over their own bodies make for an absolutely sickening pattern. An educator and a mother and a believer in ideas and ideals, I’m usually an unwavering optimist. But today’s cultural climate leaves me defeatedly aware that people are sick. Our nation is sick. Those of us who’ve read tragedies know how this ends. Remember Othello? Hamlet? When the state is sick, and when we play along with the tragedy, everybody suffers, everybody loses, everybody dies.
Even if everybody doesn’t know it yet, these recurrent attacks on women’s bodies and black bodies threaten us all. The concept of America is that we are all free and equal. When some of us aren’t free to be in and of our own bodies, the concept collapses. And what a tradegy, to see the American experiment failing.
What do we do? What do I do, right now? I don’t want to burn my bra. Playing to urban legend would only add to the confusion. And anyway, whether in the museum or in the street, the performance art is in the immediacy. Reinactment doesn’t tend to be aesthetic-changing, muchless world-changing. You can credit Marcel DuChamp or the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven or both, but the Fountain only works once.
So how do I save a concept, especially one as significant as freedom or equality? Probably not with my musings here on conceptual art.
What must I burn to beg the world to change?
I’m ready for resolutions and revolution. Please offer me one or both. At least leave some suggestions via the comment box below?