Cuban-American Juliana Emilia Fusco Miyares – better known as Coco Fusco – attempts to diagram the conveyance of cultural and ethnic identity through her 1994 essay The Other History of Intercultural Performance in the MIT Press publication TDR: The Drama Review. Much of this anthropological mission is delivered through activist performance art, specifically her 1992 globe-trotting collaboration with Mexican/Americanartist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West. Taking on the roles of “undiscovered Amerindians from an island in the Gulf of Mexico that had somehow been overlooked by Europeans for five centuries,” they called themselves “Guatinauis”. This narrative was supported through mock traditional activities, crafts, clothes and the hint of voyeuristic/exhibitionist sexual promiscuity.
Whether in Barcelona or Sydney, London or Chicago, Fisco & Gómez-Peña's caged performance installation was often seen by people who made sweeping associations between dissimilar ethnicities, even when attempting to be sympathetic. While I am not a persecuted conquered indigenous villager on display, I can relate myself to the notion of being the outsider. This does not always come with malicious or negative baggage, but can be the source of mystery and confusion. One can observe how superficial physical characteristics can lead people to assume degrees of familiarity or connections between “other” groups that aren't there – perhaps with my black hair and accent I myself am often thought to be at various time Israeli, Greek or Italian. When Persian is heard, some people think it is Arabic – although Persian is an Indo-European language and thus a very distant relative of English, and not a family member of Arabic at all. In my own art practice, Persian styles and works influenced by traditional Persian arts and crafts have sometimes been conflated or mistaken for Arabic ones.
The concept of activistic performance art as conducted by Coco Fusco offers an intriguing participatory dimension to art all practice. Does an art artist merely seek to display narrative? Does an artist wish to engage with audiences who may react very, very radically differently from one another depending on respective individual backgrounds? This takes great conviction and confidence to pursue and endure. Things which may appear initially to be whimsical or silly may have much darker undertones and provoke dramatic interactions, not all of which will be pleasant for artist or viewer. Perhaps this adds additional relevance to the subject matter in Fusco's essay: the audience interactions are as much of a “New World” as the historical meaning of the term. It is sailing and performing into the unknown or scarcely charted – this space derived from the reaction between artist and viewers is what I believe Intercultural Performance is ultimately defined by.