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Year of the White Bear & Two Undiscovered Americans visit the West, 1992-94

The suggestion that every member of the public simply accepts what is presented to them through institutions as authentic would seem unjust. To accept all presentations as fact seems almost ridiculous but how often do we actually question the authenticity of information produced from institutions such as museums and sites associated with the production of knowledge?

The work of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena explored this analysis through performance; their work arose from the 1992 “quincentenary of the ‘discovery’ of the Americas”1 a celebration of the much fabricated history of the western world ‘discovering’ non-western peoples. The year was a celebration of the ‘momentous acquisition’ and Fusco commented

“mainstream institutions which had never had a history of engagement or dialogue with ethnic minority communities all of a sudden had to demonstrate their engagement by showing a person of colour, preferably a Latin American or Native American”2

Fusco in collaboration with Gomez-Pena worked on ideas of site specific performances that would touch on issues of colonisation and the exploitation of the indigenous peoples upon their arrival in Europe and America; this would, in turn ridicule the fact that the only reason they were being invited to show their work, was because it was the official year of multiculturalism.

The result of this investigation was a performance that consisted of Fusco and Gomez-Pena dressed as two members of a fictitious tribe, loosely based on the characters from an American soap opera from the 1960’s called Gilligan’s Island. Displayed in a golden cage, dressed in all manner of paraphernalia, they would interact with the public using a series of fake customs and a few words of a language that appeared ‘traditionally native’.

To watch a short clip of the performance please click here

 

The piece entitled Two Undiscovered Americans Visit the West toured the country between 1992-94 often set up outside Natural History Museums or Art galleries. The response to the piece was quite astounding as Fusco describes

“Some people took it seriously and believed that we were the real thing. When we performed in places like the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian, or the Field Museum in Chicago, this tendency was intensified by the institutional framework in which the work was presented.”3

The fact that any member of the audience watching this performance could go without questioning its authenticity only further cements the power of the museum as an institution for education. It would appear that anything, however ridiculous, when placed within, or around the vicinity of a site of the production of knowledge, can be and often is, willingly accepted as truth. Rather amusingly, Fusco goes on to comment that the performance “generated all kinds of controversy and tense dealings with cultural bureaucracies, because some people were really angry that we were not telling the truth.”4 Exposed in the work of Coco Fusco and Gomez-Pena is the idea that the mere association with a museum or museum practices is enough to render its content authentic.

1. Fusco, Coco.  At Your Service: Latina Performance in Global Culture. In Rogers, Henry and Burrows, David, Making a Scene, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, p.106

2. Fusco, Coco.  At Your Service: Latina Performance in Global Culture. In Rogers, Henry and Burrows, David, Making a Scene, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, p.106

3. Fusco, Coco.  At Your Service: Latina Performance in Global Culture. In Rogers, Henry and Burrows, David, Making a Scene, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, p.107

4. Fusco, Coco.  At Your Service: Latina Performance in Global Culture. In Rogers, Henry and Burrows, David, Making a Scene, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, p.107

 

Further Reading

Fusco, Coco. The bodies that were not ours: and other writings. London: Routledge, 2001

Fusco, Coco.  At Your Service: Latina Performance in Global Culture. In Rogers, Henry and Burrows, David, Making a Scene, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, pp105-115

Fusco, Coco. Corpus delecti: performance of the Americas. London: Routledge, 2000

Sussler, Betsy. Speak art!: the best of BOMB magazine's interviews with artists. Amsterdam: Gordon & Breach 1997 

 

Links

Coco Fusco website

 

Images

All images taken from Coco Fusco website