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Introduction: New Feminist Theories of Visual Culture
ow does she look? In 1991, Bad Object-Choices, a collective of queer
visual artists and scholars, produced How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video (1991), an anthology of essays and conversations about queer sexuality and spectatorship in relation to ﬁlm and video. In her essay for this volume, Teresa de Lauretis (1991) considers the layers behind the title question, how do I look? “To you, to myself, how do I appear, how am I seen? . . . What are the conditions of my visibility? . . . How do I look at you, at her, at the ﬁlm, at myself? How do I see, what are the modes, constraints, and possibilities of my seeing, the terms of vision for me? . . . How do I look on, as the ﬁlm unrolls from reel to reel in the projector, as the images appear and the story unfolds on the screen, as the fantasy scenario unveils and the soundtrack plays on in my head?” The question, how do I look? speaks to “subjective vision and social visibility, being and passing, representation and spectatorship—the conditions of the visible, what can be seen, and eroticized, and on what scene” (223). How Do I Look? was groundbreaking for its inclusion of frank interchanges about the political tensions within the queer intellectual community—about, for example, homophobia in feminist ﬁlm theory, the failure in much scholarship on sexuality to think about race, the racism that structures the dominant gaze in gay cinema and photography, and the asymmetry between the homophobic structures that put pressure on lesbian and gay artists and spectators. The book demands that people working in the visual arts consider how our desires and identities inform how we look, how we appear, and what we see. The essays in this special issue of Signs, “New Feminist Theories of Visual Culture,” expand on the questions raised in How Do I Look? and investigate the layers behind a slightly rephrased question, how does she look?—an equally double-edged query that points to the female subject as both viewed and viewing and as embodied and socially and politically situated in speciﬁc and particular ways. The essays collected in this issue
[Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2006, vol. 31, no. 3] ᭧ 2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/2006/3103-0003$10.00
theater. history and the operation of structures of power” (2004. and drama studies. sexuality outside of ethnic studies proper. and so on. art history. As Crenshaw puts it in her 1994 essay. race outside of gay studies proper. insists on the intersectionality of gendered experience as inherently. Gender beyond sexual difference Politicized critical practices must challenge the ways in which the structures of disciplines and the models of critique developing out of identity politics have tended to carve up and ﬂatten out identity—for example.1 The term intersectionality points to the political imperative that discourses addressing social oppression acknowledge the complexity of how identity actually functions as we navigate the world and engage with others. They must refuse the tendency within each strand of identity politics to assume a subject who is neutral in all but one highly charged and identiﬁed way (within feminism. and visual culture studies). The most politically rigorous new feminist scholarship in visual studies (including performance. experienced. exempliﬁed by the essays in this issue. layered identities derived from social relations. time. classed. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality. a subject who is marked as female but who is otherwise presumably straight. Identity Politics. and “ﬁrst world”). white. by rendering race and class outside the concerns of feminism proper. As developed by scholars such as Kimberle ´ Crenshaw in the late 1980s. ﬁlm and television studies. 2). sexual orientation. .608 ❙ Doyle and Jones take as their subject a “she” for whom this question can’t be answered fully without thinking about gender (or what feminist discourses in ﬁlm studies and art history in the 1980s called sexual difference) as inextricably entwined (embodied. and irrevocably raced. The projects represented in this issue center on a feminine subject for whom this question can’t be answered without thinking about the complexities of how viewed and viewing subjects are situated in space. sexed. and Violence against Women of Color. for example. simultaneously. including race and ethnicity. and imagined) with other aspects of identity. architectural and urban history and theory. middle class. new media studies. thought. nationality. dance theory and history.” 1 The term intersectionality was introduced and developed by Crenshaw (1992) in her work on legal deﬁnitions of racial identity as well as speciﬁc cultural events such as the Clarence Thomas hearings. and history. and so on. and class. a theory of intersectionality “starts from the premise that people live multiple.
as it is experienced and perceived in relation to various subjects seen and seeing in the world.2 If in academic writing the location of women of color resists telling. sexual. And so.3 Scholars working from and with identity positions that are doubly and triply marginalized may ﬁnd themselves at odds not only with the ﬁeld that corresponds to the objects or images they are examining (e. ahistorical. To articulate this twenty-ﬁrst-century conception of gendered identity and its consequences. modes. women’s studies. Identity as effect. national. postcolonial. For example. ethnic. and media studies) but with the institutional spaces that support the identity-based academic ﬁelds to which their work is relevant—such as lesbian and gay studies. Reading identities as they are situated and formed in relation to one another means moving beyond the heuristic requirement of identity itself” (1995. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people. or both. it is because it is often constituted outside “proper” disciplinary boundaries. queer. and therefore as outside the ﬁeld. they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. It is this kind of “location that resists telling” that each of the essays in this issue addresses. .. ﬁlm studies. as simultaneously formed and formative is not equivalent to the notion of identity as subject and ground. art history. class. they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling” (1994. each essay draws on feminist theories of the visual but equally on antiracist. as site. and political permutations of identity formation. but as the internal impossibility of the subject as a discrete and unitary kind of being. and ethnic studies. attention paid to the politics of identity and identiﬁcation in visual art is often dismissed by guardians of the discipline of “art history” as “cultural studies.S I G N S Spring 2006 ❙ 609 “feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. 446). and/or Marxist theories of how seeing 2 At the same time. is thus understood and explored in these essays through an array of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary tools as always already conditioned by its relationship to structures of racial. as dynamic. when the practices expound identity as ‘woman’ or ‘person of color’ as an either/or proposition. Femininity.g.” as antiformalist. giving words to complex visual encounters that require the comprehension of different levels. 94). the editors take note of Judith Butler’s intelligent questioning of approaches to cultural critique that hinge on making identity plural: “Plurality disrupts the social ontology of the subject itself when that relationality is understood not merely as what persists among subjects. 3 Douglas Crimp addresses this erasure in his essay “Getting the Warhol We Deserve” (1999). and other modes of identity.
middle class. a queer feminist art collective. furthermore. 99–100). Drawing on the insights of earlier cultural theorists such as hooks. have addressed the . The concept ‘Woman’ [in the abstract] effaces the difference between women in speciﬁc socio-historical contexts” ( 2003. Amelia Jones.610 ❙ Doyle and Jones assigns social and psychological value to subjects (bodies) and their representations. is also inspired by the dynamic presentations and performances given at the “Theorizing Queer Visualities” symposium and events. These essays are deeply indebted to models of feminist analysis dominant in the visual theory of the 1970s and 1980s but are also critical of their limits. of their tendencies to focus on conceptions of feminine identity that were implicitly white. “Intersectional Feminisms” included presentations by scholars and artists such as Lorraine O’Grady. . “ﬁrst world. and Vaginal Davis. Mun ˜oz’s presentation. . . and Shuddhabrata Sengupta with a live performance by the Toxic Titties. Inderpal Grewal. Riverside. with primary author Julia Steinmetz. Co-organized by Jones and Laura Doan.” which was co-organized by Jennifer Doyle. Juliana Snapper. and Molly McGarry and took place in April 2003 at the University of California. The aim of this special issue. which took place in April 2005 at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. and Sengupta’s brief polemic are represented here. while the Toxic Titties. is to represent the work of those scholars who are committed to an intersectional feminist politics and visual theory—whose work traverses a range of critical territories.” “Feminist ﬁlm theory rooted in an ahistorical psychoanalytic framework that privileges sexual difference actively suppresses recognition of race. ratifying the authors’ and editors’ collective commitment to a politics of complexity. this issue of Signs seeks to forward scholarship produced from a feminist bibliography but whose aims and whose complexity cannot be fully read within the framework of feminist art history or feminist visual theory. Mun ˜oz. substantially revised and expanded. This introduction. then. the symposium included presentations by Doyle and Jose ´ Esteban Mun ˜oz and queer feminist performative engagements by Ron Athey. Nao Bustamante.” and straight. These essays all exceed the boundaries of a single discipline. The essays “New Feminist Theories of Visual Culture” was initially inspired not only by some of the important critical and artistic work noted above but also by a conference titled “Intersectional Feminisms. As black cultural theorist bell hooks put it in her 1992 essay “The Oppositional Gaze.
and so on. Like Oishi. Mun ˜oz writes. Eve Oishi’s essay on race. . Mun ˜oz explores the productive overlaps between feminist psychoanalytic theory (which is . as a process rather than a position. in fact. “does not conform to our associations of art practices that emerged at the moment of identity politics. in the recognition of the impossibility of fully losing oneself through full identiﬁcation with the image” (659). or are not). across the line between gay and straight. At the heart of Oishi’s argument for a perverse theory of identiﬁcation is a commitment to partial and ambivalent identiﬁcation. Riverside.” Her writing revolves around deeply personal (and political) encounters with ﬁlm—her own memories of watching The King and I and of forming a bond between Oishi and her father as fans of westerns and Yakuza gangster ﬁlms. In developing a political reading of depression. . and perverse forms of visual pleasure and identiﬁcation explores the productive leaps that queer spectators of color make every day. and the Depressive Position” orbits around a reading of the artist Nao Bustamante’s video installation Neopolitan. Sengupta’s polemic dynamically highlights a range of crucial mitigating factors to the 1970s idea of identity as being ﬁxable in separable categories linked to gender. and sexed subjects” (675). take place regularly across the color line.S I G N S Spring 2006 ❙ 611 issues raised in their University of California. Mun ˜oz offers a portrait of queer and racialized spectatorship—but focuses less on identity itself than on affect and emotion. Oishi considers “the generative moment . Feeling Down: Latina Affect. sex. In contrast to the totalizing narratives of much classical feminist ﬁlm theory (in which you either are what’s on screen. between men and women—leaps that complicate the difference between “me” and “not me” and that reveal identiﬁcation as ﬂuid. nor does it represent an avoidance of the various antagonisms within the social that deﬁne our recognition and belonging as racialized. Bustamante’s work. the power of the spectator’s sense of “not quite” and “not yet. gendered. Conﬁrming the issue’s commitment to a multidimensional and ﬂuid understanding of the subject. These are leaps that. race. Using concrete examples of the myriad contemporary subjects who complicate previous conceptions of identity— such as the rich Indian racist or the anti-Semitic black Muslim descendant of slaves—Sengupta effectively sets the tone for the journal issue as a whole by pointing to the simultaneous inescapability and profound complexity of identity categories as they condition how and where people live in the world in the early twenty-ﬁrst century. “Feeling Brown. performance through a critical essay. the Performativity of Race. in which we watch a loop of the artist weeping as she watches and rewinds the conclusion of a ﬁlm.
Here we have a queer feminist art collective taking on one of the most . through. they argue. In particular. In her essay. Baydar and I argue that the Saturday Mothers phenomenon served to unhinge the binary oppositions. that conventionally determine who is allowed to occupy what social space. as well as each movement’s speciﬁc contributions to a feminist antiracist visual theory and practice. and critical thought).” Gu ˙ vegen draw on urban nomenon in I ¨ lsu ¨ m Baydar and Berﬁn I and gender theory to explore the way in which the mothers’ protest movement against the disappearance of politically contentious individuals ˙ stanbul. In particular. By juxtaposing the writing of Melanie Klein (on the depressive affective position) with that of Hortense Spillers (on race. Collins offers a revised history of the two movements and poses an astute and politicized institutional and discursive critique that attends to the intersections between gender and sexuality and race and ethnicity. active from 1995–99. Mun ˜oz begins to map a queer theory of race and affect via a response to the question posed by Bustamante’s piece: Why would a woman of color want to cry? In “Territories. psychoanalysis. and Thresholds: The Saturday Mothers Phe˙ stanbul. they redeﬁned the “maternal-feminine not as an identity category but as a state of becoming and a line of ﬂight toward the radical transformation of the social imaginary” (713). the mothers mobilized a speciﬁc ˙ stanbul (along the “highly differentiated” I ˙ stiklal Street) public space in I as well as a “naturalized motherhood identity with universalist claims” (691) for political ends. Identities. “Activists Who Yearn for Art That Transforms: Parallels in the Black Arts and Feminist Art Movements in the United States.612 ❙ Doyle and Jones traditionally blind to the subject of racial difference. The Toxic Titties’ experience working with.” Lisa Gail Collins studies the parallels between the black arts and feminist art movements and probes the limits of each movement. and around Vanessa Beecroft gives us an unusual look inside the contemporary art world. complicates conunder police custody in I ˙ vegen ventional ideas about space and identity. In this way. as hooks points out in the quotation in the section above) and theories of racial identity and affect. Noting that “many pivotal leaders in the largely parallel movements were so deeply desirous of unity based on shared experience that they either hesitated or refused to acknowledge and embrace the complex diversity of their constituents because they perceived the true recognition of diversity as potentially divisive” (719). such as public versus private and masculine versus feminine. Baydar and I political intervention can serve as a crucial example of the radical global potential of a new kind of feminist social protest. To this ˙ vegen argue compellingly that this speciﬁc woman-led end.
In doing so Holland begins to sketch the psychic life. but who . which would. who enabled the Spanish explorer Herna ´ n Corte ´ s by serving as his interpreter. members of the collective who auditioned to participate in Beecroft’s performance. sanitize racism—which would prefer that racism had no erotics to it—Holland offers a reading not only of the interracial desire that is this ﬁlm’s most spectacular element but also.S I G N S Spring 2006 ❙ 613 paradoxical contemporary high-proﬁle artists—an “art star. Using the conﬂicted reception history of the ﬁlm Monster’s Ball as a way to track the workings of white liberal ideology. for example. desire. which is designed to strip down each participant’s sense of individuality.” whose work is staged in the most rariﬁed art-world settings (museums. of the association explored in this ﬁlm between death. and the essay presented here was authored by Toxic Tittie Steinmetz (who witnessed VB46 alongside other members of the collective) with input and feedback from Cassils and Leary. how it helps us to ask certain kinds of questions about sexuality. This process is ongoing. The Toxic Titties have been working through their participation in Beecroft’s VB46 performance since 2001—documenting the aspects of Beecroft’s process that are hidden from view.” explodes myths of a wholesome female-centered culture in the Zapotec region of Oaxaca. and race. a Christian convert. and more provocatively. Analisa Taylor’s contribution. for it shows us where feminist thought takes us. set out with the intention of disrupting the performance but soon found themselves overwhelmed. galleries. and happy matriarchy. appropriating and reimag ining Beecroft’s fascistic aesthetic. of the prisonindustrial complex. Sharon P. and biennials) and is centered on the display of the female body but whose politics are. veiled. and how those answers take us into other critical regions. overpowered by Beecroft’s process. Holland’s essay. in essence. Mexico. few have actually bothered to take it seriously enough to analyze it with the close eye and ethnographic approach deployed by the Toxic Titties. Heather Cassils and Clover Leary. whiteness.” marks perhaps the outer limits of this kind of scholarship. narrating and reframing their experience of the performance. Analyzing the ﬁlm Blossoms of Fire. As ambivalent as many art historians and critics are about Beecroft’s work. “Malinche and Matriarchal Utopia: Gendered Visions of Indigeneity in Mexico. the unconscious. which explores the potential for transgendering in this culture as unhinging outsiders’ views of homogenizing mestizidad. and women. “Death in Black and White: A Reading of Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball. Taylor uses this case study to explore the broader question of Mexican identity in general via the Malinche trope (La Malinche was the Indian woman.
feminist scholarship. such as history. as these essays exemplify. 439–47. 1995. we believe that nothing could be more important in the realm of intellectual and creative inquiry. “Beautiful. and Bent: ‘Boys’ Love’ as Girls’ Love in Sho ˆ jo Manga. sexualized. Welker tells the suggestive story of a popular form that is so queer on its surface that its lesbian dynamics seem to hide in plain sight. ed. two-sided ﬁgure of La Malinche. Tracking aspects of the production and consumption of this genre. In his essay. Judith. In the study of visual culture of all kinds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1991. and lesbian. Crenshaw. How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video. Kimberle ´ . Riverside (Doyle) Art History and Visual Studies University of Manchester (Jones) References Bad Object-Choices. Informed. 1992.” In Racing Justice. ed. experience. she demonstrates how fantasies of happy matriarchy combine with fears of the treacherous female in the Euro-American imaginary to reinforce gendered. En-gendering Power: Essays . Welker extends the scope of lesbian cultural studies to consider the importance of these texts to the story of the formation of lesbian subjectivity in Japan.” In Identities. gay. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr. In today’s world of rapidly shifting national and ideological boundaries.614 ❙ Doyle and Jones also almost certainly saved the lives of thousands of Indians by encouraging him to negotiate). “Collected and Fractured: Response to Identities. and racialized stereotypes of the Mexican subject.” James Welker “bends” lesbian ﬁlm theory to explore the vicissitudes of gender in Japanese popular comic novels in which “beautiful boys” are read on multiple levels as queer—as (simultaneously) feminine. Borrowed. the most innovative new feminist scholarship does more than forward the analysis of work by women or critique representations of women. and difference. by other complex theories of identity and meaning.. Through this analysis of the complex. Butler. intersectionally. Department of English University of California. can expand but also reﬁne how we think about identity and visuality as well as the conceptual categories that are central to our work. Seattle: Bay Press. “Whose Story Is It Anyway? Feminist and Antiracist Appropriations of Anita Hill.
“The Oppositional Gaze.S I G N S Spring 2006 ❙ 615 on Anita Hill. 1999. New York: Routledge. “Getting the Warhol We Deserve. Martha Albertson Fineman and Roxanne Mykitiuk. 1991. ed. ed. and the Construction of Social Reality. Clarence Thomas. 223–64. and Violence against Women of Color. 402–40. New York: Pantheon. ed. 1994. Crimp. Douglas.awid. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality. ———. hooks. .” In Bad Object-Choices 1991.” In The Public Nature of Private Violence: The Discovery of Domestic Abuse.org/ publications/primers/intersectionality_en. bell. (1992) 2003. New York: Routledge.pdf. Teresa.” Social Text 59 (Summer): 49–66. 93–118.” Women’s Rights and Economic Change 9 (August). ———. Identity Politics. “Film and the Visible.” In The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Amelia Jones. Toni Morrison. 94–105. de Lauretis. 2004. “Intersectionality: A Tool for Gender and Economic Justice. http://www.
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