naomi campbell photographed by wolfgang tillmans for vogue us nov ‘97
Coco Fusco Says Fuck Authenticity.
- Coco Fusco: We were trying to blast this myth that the non-Western Other exists in a time and place that is completely untouched by western civilization or that in order to be authentic one would have to be devoid of characteristics associated with the West. It’s reasonable to say that non-Western cultures have a better understanding of Western civilization than Western civilization has of other cultures. In any case, we introduced into the cage some elements that shocked and bothered many people and became the focus of a lot of questions put to the zoo guards. People said, “How could we be authentic if he smokes Dunhills? How could she really know how to use a computer if she is from this undiscovered island? Why is she wearing Converse high tops?” Everything they viewed as part of their world, they didn’t want us to have. That would mean that we were inauthentic. However, if you see Conchero dancers in Mexico City, they do wear Converse high tops and Adidas and Nikes. They probably listen to hard rock when they are not dancing to traditional music. We wanted to make fun of this very Euro-centric notion that other people operate in a pristine world untouched by Western civilization.
- Guillermo Gomez-Pena: To me, authenticity is an obsession of Western anthropologists. When I am in Mexico, Mexicans are never concerned about this question of authenticity. However, when I am in the United States, North Americans are constantly making this artificial division between what is an “authentic” Chicano, an “authentic” Mexican, an “authentic” Native American in order to fulfill their own desires. Generally speaking, this authentic Other has to be pre-industrial, has to be more tuned with their past, has to be less tainted by post-modernity, has to be more innocent and must not live with contemporary technology. And most importantly, must have a way of making art that fulfills their stereotypes; in the case of Mexico—Magical Realism.
- Coco Fusco: This fetish about authenticity is connected to an idea that the non-Western being doesn’t have a sense of reflexivity about him or herself. I think, for example, of the videos being made now by Kayapo Indians in the Amazon. I was at a conference this year where American academics questioned the Kayapos’ interest in filming themselves filming and editing. They want to talk about the process while they’re making it and that blows American academics away.
- Guillermo Gomez-Pena: The bottom line is they don’t want us to be part of the same present or the same time. They want us to operate outside of history.
MIT Press interviews Richard Meyer, What was Contemporary Art