Flash Art

May, 1996

Michael Cohen

IN YOUR SHOWS you’ve exhibited a range of shifting sexual and cultural identities…. 

My desire in investigating these multiple selves was to try to find or create one that works for me. I’ve been very influenced by the writings of Franz Fanon, particularly his book Black Skins/White Masks. Working as psychiatrist, writer, philosopher and activist, Fanon inhabited a multiplicity of voices. His fierce decolonization of interior spaces provides an elasticity, a return to the self as a site of interrogation. 

Could you elaborate on your conception of a “redemptive narcissism? 

“Redemptive narcissism or self-love is a form of resistance to the tyranny of mediocrity. I see the mirror not only as a site of trauma and death – Narcissus falling in to drown – but as a space for rigorous meditation, cleansing and recuperation. Mapplethorpe’s Unrequited Love plays on the image of two different watering holes. In the background image, endlessly repeated, my figure reaches down to the reflecting pool in a gesture of rejuvenation. While in the foreground photograph, shot in a night club bathroom, I was interested in the way the mirror revealed the relation between me, the person taking the picture, and the two Caucasian figures – a virtual space where closet scenarios are exposed and captured. This new project interrogates the phenomenon around mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, the West’s fascination with and consumption of black bodies. 

How does that redemption relate to your Times Square piece, Victory Parade? 

I chose Times Square – with its kaleidoscopic mixture of Street life – as the arena to pose the problem that gayness cannot be imagined in the black public sphere. I placed Marcus Garvey’s UNIA African Nationalist flag against an erotically charged photo mural of two African men embracing, calling attention to an intense psychic struggle: the impulse to reject or destroy someone like yourself, who mirrors your shared history of lynching, terror and the historical trauma experienced by the collective black body, rather than love them. 

Does Brotherhood where you and your brother embrace while pointing guns toward the v/ewe,; then, take up a positive mode/for black nationalism? 

This collaboration with Thomas – using masquerade as our mode of transgression 

– is a way of expanding the notion of who can lay claim to the liberatory potential envisioned in the UNIA flag. We are challenging a construction of African nationalism that positions queers and feminists outside of the black family, the Million Man march and other black institutions. I’m saying that this flag is my family’s background too, both immediate and extended all the way, lets say, across the African diaspora. The photograph offers a counter- memory, a memory of resistance. 

Michael Cohen is a critic based in Los Angeles

Lyle Ashton Harris was born is 1965. 

Selected solo shows: 1993: New Museum of Contemporary An, New York; Simon Watson’s Living Room, New York; 1994: Schmidt Contemporary Art, St. Louis; 1996: Jack Lillian. New York; Centro Dc Arte Euroamericano, Caracas. 

Selected group shows: 1991: “Someone/Somebody. Meyers/Bloom, Los Angeles; 1992: “LAX’ Santa Monica Museum of An; “ainsi font font font. Rizzo, Paris; “Multiples,’ Daniel Buchholz, Cologne; “Presenting Rearwards, Rosamund Felsen, Los Angeles; 1993: 

“Dress Codes. ICA, Boston; “Markets of Resistance, White Columns, New York; 1994: “Black Male. Whitney, New York; “Telling… Stories. Randolph Street, Chicago; 1995: “Desire/Borealis 7, City An Museum and The Nordic Arts Centre, Helsinki; “Mirage. ICA. London; “Video: Irnmagine e l’oggetto, Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea, Rome; “Inside/Out, Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield; P.L.A.N., LACMA, Los Angeles; “Masculine Masquerade, MIT List An Center, Boston; 1996: “Persona, The Renaissance Society, Chicago; “Interzones, Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen.