Saturday, March 10, 2012

Race Representation and Social Activism: PAO at Movement Research

Last night, PAO performed a new iteration of our work at Movement Research. The performance was a works-in-progress showing that featured 3 other choreographers and was moderated by performing artist, teacher, and choreographer, Margaret Paek.

As part of her moderation process, Paek asked viewers to take a minute to reflect on each piece and respond using a pen and piece of paper. She then allowed a minute of time for kinesthetic reflections to take place in which anyone could come to the stage and perform an image they remembered, or riff off of the movement they had seen. Below I have posted images of some of the written responses as well as a video of the kinesthetic responses.


I was particularly struck by this last image, in which a viewer bluntly (and appropriately) questions:

“What is up with the white girl US [abr. upstage] left? Why is there a (black?) man’s voice talking about Vietnam while a bunch of non-black [people] all too young to have even been born at the time of Vietnam are on stage?”

This comment, paired with another response about how the piece reminded a viewer of the timely #StopKONY campaign on Facebook, has caused me to reflect on questions of racial representation on stage (and in the media) particularly as it relates to the representation of political activism, social change, and “doing good.”

Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, best summarizes my initial response to the KONY2012 Campaign Video. He writes:

“There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming” (qtd. from Visible Children blog).

Mainly, what is the role of visual racial representation in social change campaigns, how does the problematic of an outside community trying to "fix" intracommunity conflicts assert itself, and personally, where do the noisemakers of the Asian American community fit into the larger activist narrative (portrayed as racially dichotomous)?

My initial response to the comments made about racial representation within PAO's performance was empathetic. I contextualize it within the greater politic of which bodies are represented on stage: [non/white, dis/abled, thin/fat, fe/male]. Check out also this Racialicious blog post on Asian American representation on Broadway (I recently met Peter Kim at an Asian American Arts Alliance meeting). 

My secondary response is that my work aims to investigate how communities inherit trauma psychologically, physically, and culturally across these articulated borders. My tertiary response is that the work also aims to build a foundation for empathy--of the kinesthetic nature--for audiences as well as ignite rumination and discussions such as this. 

It means there is still more work ahead. Which is a good thing.

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