controversial flyer picture

12Apr10

 


Does the above flyer picture offend you? If you didn’t know anything about the content of the piece, what would you expect to see in a show featuring these 3 people?
Jenny, Anja and I had to make a flyer photo for our new piece I I I without really knowing what the piece was going to be about. We spontaneously decided to put on funny costumes and paint ourselves black.  We did this without any political agenda or clear concept in mind. It was more a playful and intuitive spurt of the moment thing that came out of the desire to dress up the way we used to as children for carnival. Anja had a picture of a little boy painted in black for carnival and we liked it very much so we tried painting ourselves black. We were aware that the photo might be slightly inappropriate and politically incorrect, but decided to use it anyway. 
Now we got some very critical response of people who felt offended by the picture (among others from an African-American soul singer based in Hamburg). She said that art like this shouldn’t be supported by the city because it only depicts the cliches of Africa and it is dangerous for our children to see this. An online culture police homepage gave us a brown card for perpetuating racial discrimination. http://npd-blog.info/2010/04/16/braune-karte-100/
In fact our piece has nothing at all to do with Africa. The black paint was only for the picture. In the piece we make references to dance history and use costumes reminiscent of the Bauhaus era.
Presently we are  a bit intimidated and unsure if we should continue using the photo for promotion. It turns out that the picture is especially problematic for Americans because of the blackface phenomenon during the 19th century where white people painted themselves black in minstrel shows to imitate and mock African American slaves. We were not aware of this specific historical implication and it was surely not our intention to offend anyone.

Our piece was invited to Implustanz in Vienna. Although we are quite fond of our original blackface flyer which was printed for press release in Hamburg and Amsterdam, we’ve decided to take some alternative flyer pictures, one reason being that Impulstanz is an international festival with large numbers of American guests. So how about changing the color to white?

Is this too much butoh? Rosa, our production assistant, felt that this picture was even more politically incorrect in a German context because it could possibly remind one of the Nazi regime. Now personally I feel that both pictures are eye-catchers and definitely good material for a flyer. Although they might be slightly politically incorrect and controversial depending on the country and context where they are used. Andrea Bozic once said in a feedback session that as choreographers we should be aware and responsible of the consequences of what we put on stage……and I guess this also applies to what we put on our flyer. 

I always used to think that as an artist I should be allowed to create intuitively and without self-censorship, that too much thinking about how a work is going to be perceived and received is more harmful than helpful to the artistic process. But I wonder how much longer I can get away with my naïvete, which has become almost like a stock ingredient of my (constructed?) artistic identity. 

I confess that we took this flyer photo without thinking of the impact it could have on certain people in our society. I thought that as artists we had the freedom to be slightly inappropriate and provocative. I didn’t mind being provocative. I thought we were being risky, funny and cool. ‘But at who’s expense?’ as Trajal, a black American choreographer wrote in a reaction to the flyer.

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