Did you ever felt down the rabbit hole of contemplating the complexities of self-presentation? It’s very self-conscious – very millennial, I know. Although there is no way of fully knowing it, there is an unavoidable discrepancy between how do you appear and how do you see yourself. Realising this inconsistency can lead to a certain feeling of displacement. Thinking too much about how you should act can make you feel like a fraud.
This dynamic goes further than the difference between the outcome of your BuzzFeed personality test and Insta account. Skin colour, gender, sexuality, class, amongst other things, influence judgement of how we appear to others. In the other way around, in a Judith-Butlerian sense, it influences the way you behave as well. About gender, she said that people enact “a stylized repetition of acts which are internally discontinuous” A constructed identity is a performative accomplishment which everyone believes but “real only to the extent that it is performed.” *
When does your identity “pass?” Artist Genevieve Gaignard, a daughter of a black father and white mother, states the difficulty of the intersectional identity of people with a mixed-race background. As she questioned herself: “Was her family white enough to be white? Black enough to be black?”
In Counterfeit Currency, Gaignard’s exhibition at the Flag Art Foundation, the artist explores the performance of race, gender presentation, beauty standards, and class, through fictional personas and staged environments. She explores her own existence, exposing the performance of the self as something both self-constructed and culturally affected.
Gaignard does so by staging self-portraits, posing in different identities. In her self-portraits, she seamlessly transforms into Hollywood cliches. Fur, long cigarettes, vibrantly coloured shower caps, you know, the usual.
In the exhibition, one can find a very heavy installation on both ends of the gallery space. The first one, Be More, is saturated with appearance-altering beauty products for WOC, such as skin-bleaching creams, cacao butter body care products, face masks and makeup. It reflects on the horrible prevailing beauty expectations for women and people of colour. #effyourbeautystandards
In Counter Fit, she mocks the perfect beach body. While wearing a t-shirt depicting a white hour-glass figure shining in the sun she parades a Benjamin Franklin. Easy references are there for all to see: the unattainable and physique – big breasts, small waist and hips, which is bolstered by capitalism: the beauty industry makes ridiculous amounts of money from people wearing make up all day every day.
The other installation, Don’t Wish Me Well, is filled with other personal and politically-loaded objects such as a spring of porcelain black panther sculptures (a clear reference to the organisation), and a stereotypical African mask and figurine.
In Seeing is Believing, one can see a black mirror, and behind that, a wallpaper full of countless white female faces. The visitor can take a look in the mirror to see their own darkened image amidst the white judgy faces. Only if you’re white you’ll get a heavily euphemistic taste of everyday racism.
The “message” of her art is not really explicit or didactive. She does not the absolute monopoly on the answers of how to deal with oppressed expectations based on identity. Her art makes you aware that everything in the room is a construction, and that says something about society on a deeper level.
Counterfeit Currency is on view until August 17, 2018, at the Flag Art Foundation. More info here.
*both quotes are from Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, 1990.