Inverted Minstrel (2001)
In this interdisciplinary video/performance piece, Otalvaro-Hormillosa takes on a multifaceted character who embodies the vato/playmate, the deconstructed lesbian who “lacks,” the queer savage, and the inverted minstrel who inverts the concept of “minstrelsy” in terms of race, gender and sexuality. Using the politics of hip hop in queer communities of color, she questions the extent to which Asian, Latino/a, mixed race, and other non-white/non-black cultures of resistance assimilate into and appropriate both white and black dominant cultural practices of representation. The performance raises questions around issues of cultural appropriation, inversions of hierarchy, black/white sexual supremacist ideals, relational patriarchies, racial formation in the U.S. and the way in which U.S. pop cultural imperialism influences racial constructs around the world. This piece has been performed throughout the United States. The video version of the piece has been presented nationally and internationally.
SYNOPSIS OF INVERTED MINSTREL
The concept for “Inverted Minstrel” came about as a result of my thought process which occurred when I first arrived in the Bay Area. I began to develop a critical essay about the politics of hip hop within queer communities of color, particularly Filipino and Latino communities. I was very concerned about, on the one hand, the conflict between the misogyny and homophobia that is prevalent in mainstream hip hop and the queer politics that these communities are supposed to uphold, and on the other hand, what I perceived to be an appropriation of Black American culture on the part of my communities as well as a gravitation towards Afrocentric cultural practices and representations of resistance at the expense of the cultivation of Asian and Latino cultural representations; however, the idea of “appropriation” was put into question considering my acknowledgment of Asian and Latino elements in hip hop and other Black cultural forms which are not recognized as such. Through my intellectual and artistic labor, I have actively chosen to participate in my own grassroots organizing around these issues in order to instigate revolutionary critical thought processes that challenge these cultural practices.
I began to develop the essay (the text of which is performed on the video), “Resisting Black/White Supremacist Ideals, Appropriation and Assimilation,” and to discuss the issues at length with friends and acquaintances from a variety of communities. I also conducted workshops and discussions at conferences such as the queer Latino/a youth conference and the queer Filipino conference, both of which took place at University of California in Los Angeles. I then began to think about how I might create a performance piece based on these ideas.
In 2000, I participated in the Brown Sheep Project, a performance workshop conducted by Guillermo Gomez-Peña which took place at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco and which culminated in a performance of dioramas that premiered at Galería and at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. In this workshop, I experimented with images and possible ways to stage the performance.
One of the first ideas that came to mind was the imagery of minstrelsy. I thought that the image of an inverted minstrel (in terms of race, gender and sexuality)/nouveau queer savage would be a good way to illustrate my ideas and questions about cultural appropriation, inversions of hierarchy, Afrophallocentrism and Europhallocentrism, black/white sexual supremacist ideals, relational patriarchies, racial formation in the U.S. and the way in which U.S. imperialism influences racial constructions around the world.
I decided to create a video of the essay and deliver the text in the voice of Frantz Kafka’s ape, from his “Address to the Academy,” (revisited from previous pieces I have done with this character) who is overcome by various contemporary voices (the Pilipino, the vato, the red neck, the dyke, etc.) as he/she performs the act of thinking out these issues and writing a paper with the help of Curious George (my performance partner/puppet). The video and the image I create on stage illustrate one another as the performance takes place. The video starts to play as I enter and perform in drag as a vato (Chicano homeboy stereotype) by painting a goat tee on my face; I begin to gesticulate accordingly with a boom box to my ear. I then deconstruct this image by derobing (under my boxing robe, I am in full body paint with the exception of my face – half black/half white – wearing a politicized harness loincloth – no dildoe – with panties on which the American flag is painted) and posing as a vato-playmate. I then bind my breasts and retrieve my gigantic phallus prop which is half black and half white. I stylistically strap on so that the colors of the tool appear to be the inverse of the colors on my body. A series of acts follow involving the phallus and two sexy looking plastic super male model dolls (one is black and one is white).
I have performed this piece in a variety of ways: the video plays while I pose in tableaux or perform the series of slow actions mentioned above; when the video stops at strategic moments, I perform a series of other actions. I have also performed the tableaux and actions during the run of the video, though this is not the most ideal way in which the performance takes place due to the lack of space created between the video and the performance.
During the Brown Sheep performance, I developed another piece which provided context to the diorama (this piece can be performed in the audience or reception area before and as the performance begins). I took on the persona of a traditional minstrel in the window of Galería performing to the street and at the restaurant of La Peña by putting on black face paint, and dancing with a bamboo stick and tap shoes. I created a fictional character (partially based on history) whose taxonomic plate read:
Hello der. Ma name is Ignacio Balinguit, but you can call me Iggy, das ma stage name anyways. Ma grea, grea, grea, great grampappy, Pedro Balinguit, was as a chief from de Visayan Island ob de Philippines. He done jumped a slave ship dat was on’is way ta Spain from Acapulco, Mexico. He landed in N’Orleans, Louisiana, and married an Injun-Black woman der. Ma family’s been roun’ere eber since. Folks, dey say I dance real good. I hear dat de white men up North, dey becoming popular and making big bucks by paintin’ dey faces black and doin’ Ethiopian dances. Well, hot dawg! I’ma fixin’ to make me some bucks like so!
New Orleans, 1851
During 2000-2001, I completed a video based on the performance. I also incorporated more historical images that reference colonial practices of displaying of non-white Others (i.e., Venus Hottentot, the 1904 World’s Fair, etc.). The video version stands on its own and has been screened in various venues in the U.S. and worldwide
Photo credit: Eugenio Castro and Nancy Ericsson (blackface images)