writing to know, knowing thru being, being for writing... this is me, writing about the one thing i know, which is myself... and even that is sometimes a mystery...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

artist's statement

as a supplement to in(v)ertion, the explanation and explication of the purpose behind the meaning...

In(v)ertion: Artist’s Statement

My performance piece developed out of my own attempts to, as Charlotte Keatley so aptly stated, “acknowledge the debt, to point out the fact that you and I are where we are today due to the efforts of women in the past” (1990, p.130). My piece was thus conceived from an effort to synthesize the voices, theories and perspectives of the writers whose works we have read this year, and my desire to discover a place for myself, as a woman, amongst them. Formulating common themes into a web of experience (performed as a spoken word collage) that could serve as a basis for the representation of the “woman’s condition” then provided me the context in which to position my own voice and artistic contribution. My reactions and interpretations of the works by these authors has not only inspired me, but has motivated me to create my own work, and to explore the realms of the poetic and theatric mediums.

I intended, specifically, to reinterpret and stimulate reconsideration of the works used in this course, especially through the juxtaposition of sound fragments. This concept came about as a synthesis of inspiration from the slide, dialogue, music combinational structure found in Diana Son’s “R.A.W. (‘Cause I’m A Woman)” and my reactions to Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should. I remember being particularly troubled by Doris’s last lines in Scene 8, which Keatley seemed to have written with a profound sense of irony. I felt that Doris, in speaking these last lines, was recognizing not the “beginning of her life,” (Keatley, 1994, p.92) but in fact, the end of her freedom and sense of individuality as a woman. Part of her self must die in the birth of this new life.

In this way, I modified lines from Doris’s monologue with the intention of reinterpreting her seemingly conventional declaration of love and happiness, to emphasize the sense of ironic loss in the gaining of a relationship. Taken in context with the other texts we have read, notably Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide and Cherrie Moraga’s Giving Up The Ghost, Keatley’s words, “it’s happened to me, I didn’t think it would be like this” and “my heart was in my mouth” no longer seem like honest declarations of love, but of violation.

This idea, that all love is a violation, was something I wanted to develop further. The discussion of love, rape, sex and sexuality in the course texts depicted the nature of relationships in a negative, even defeatist, light. As Hélène Cixous suggests, this could be a function of patriarchal ideology, as she points out that all women are “relegated to repression, to the grave, the asylum, oblivion or silence,” doomed to an existence in which they are “loved only when absent or abused, a phantom or a fascinating abyss. Outside and also beside [themselves]” (Cixous, 1977, 133).

In that women are always the “victims” of love became a foundation for my perspective, and a source of critical perturbation. I wanted to break free from the “woman as victim” stereotype in my performance and writing. And because women’s oppression is directly linked to the existence of men and the socially conditioned standard of submission, the process of breaking free of victimization required first the removal of men, and then an assertion of women’s power and independence in their absence.

While Cixous claims “it is always necessary for a woman to die in order for the play to begin” (1977, p.133), the death, or removal of the male from the scene, facilitates in the beginning of something else: the autonomous life and happiness of the woman. By writing out the male, depriving him of voice and presence, metonymically removing his power, I could eliminate what Keatley termed the “resource of the oppressed,” an “extraordinary ability [for women] to assert themselves through compromise” (Keatley, 1990, p.130).

Thus, in the death of the man, I achieved a removal of the assumed male gaze, and a removal of the social expectations that seem to function as part of oppressive patriarchal ideology and its attendant expectation of women to be submissive. The removal of the man, the dilution of his power, and his continued irrelevancy are crucial to the development of women and the assertion of individuality, a meaning central to my piece. I wanted to portray women’s emergent power and confidence in the absence of man. Thus, it is necessary for the man to die for the woman to begin.

This inverts the expected natures of social roles and relationships, an idea that led to the conception of the title of my three-movement poem. Invertion resulted from the blending of two concepts and their significance in the context of women’s experience: insertion and inversion. Insertion has sexual connotations, reminding one of penetration, but may also imply power, as in a dialogue where the insertion of one’s voice, especially the voice of the oppressed, may signify an attempt toward change. The idea of breaking the “relegated silence” (Cixous, 1977, p.133) with the raising of voice, both in volume and frequency, suggests a subversion of social expectation, and an intention to change through action.

My performance piece seeks to portray a sex scene from an alternative perspective. I sought to negate or reverse established social ideals in my performance, particularly through removing male power and delegating it to the woman character. Instead of love being a negative thing, and sex something oppressive and violating that she consents to instead of initiating, I wanted this scene to assert the opposite. I wanted to reverse the expectations for women’s and men’s social roles by having the woman be assertive, having her take control of the situational outcomes that affect her body and emotions. Keatley’s assertion that it is “incredibly hard for women to be psychically singular, to be ‘selfish’” (1990, p.131) was something I struggled with, and could identify as an underlying problem in many of the plays I read. It seems that women are consistently battling a cognitive dissonance between society’s expectations for them, and their own desires and needs. Thus, never “psychically singular,” but always polarized and bifurcated.

Inversion, in the form of role reversal, achieves an assertion of female power and choice, as the woman is speaking out and dominating the scene, while her lover is absent, perhaps dead. Additionally, the reversal of chronological order, moving from the woman’s death to her (re)birth, signifies an upheaval of natural order, a subversion of the expected. This also changes the audience’s interpretation of her situation: she is not a victim, though she begins at first to echo the victim-speak of prior rape monologues. Instead, she is triumphant and in control of her experiences, and the audience witnesses the creation of a new woman, born, like a phoenix, from the ashes of discarded social ideals.

The image of a phoenix, and the transformation from the remains of a destructed self, are further implied in the lyrics of the song, which begins “when there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire” (Stars, 2005). I chose this song as a music bed for the poem because it suggests the need for women to abandon social ideals in the service of autonomy.

I intended to reflect this through the stripping of clothing, gradually revealing an uninhibited and unashamed woman. This shedding of various selves, signified by the layers of clothing, represents an act culminating in honesty and self-discovery. The tearing away of clothes, meant at first to suggest something sexual, soon becomes a means by which the woman removes her inhibitions, and finds a way to “pick herself offa the floor and fly.”

The clothes are meant to imply the burden of expectation and ideology, functions of her existence within society that “keep her down.” The Yale sweatshirt, the black and white striped shirt suggestive of prison uniform, the various shirt colors meant to recall Ntozake Shange’s “women of color,” and the long tight dress were intended to represent various forms of restraint. The color yellow, as well, suggests her race, which she encounters and tries to escape repeatedly, but finally accepts. The yellow remains until the end, in the culmination of her dance. She must get through the layers to reveal her true core, and as she discards the clothes and the ideals they symbolize, she finds herself freer to move about, to run and leap into the air, to explore space and her body’s capabilities within it.

She becomes more comfortable in her ability to appreciate her self and her body, and with that, her sexuality. These “layers of denial” are a function of McIntosh’s “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions [of privilege]” (p.21) that oppresses women and other minorities. In shedding them, she finds herself “finally free and happy,” empowered to start her life anew, a self-made woman. She is not a creation of man’s, or an accessory to the fulfillment of his dreams or desires, but came from herself, a place “where [she] made [her]self. Where [she] changed” (Son, p.292).

In the end, it is her realization of her autonomy, her strength and ability as a woman, and her refusal of man that redeems her and allows her to fly. As the clothes are cast aside, she enters into a state of bliss, an existential orgasm, and a sense of gratification and satisfaction beyond sexual bliss. It is the satisfaction one finds in the discovery of independence, and the realization that one has the power to create happiness for oneself. Like Betty’s discovery of masturbation in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, she “goes on defying… until [she] has betrayed [men] and feels triumphant because [she] is separate from them” (Churchill, 1985, p.83). She is triumphant at last, no longer limited by the thick layers she once believed she needed for her protection and acceptance. She is free to be herself and to love herself, and no longer positions herself in a system of oppression.


Cixous, Hélène. (1977). “Aller à la mer.”

Churchill, Caryl. (1985). Cloud 9. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc.

Keatley, Charlotte. (1990). “Art Form or Platform? On Women and Playwrighting.” New Theatre Quarterly, 6:22, 93-105.

Keatley, Charlotte. (1994). My Mother Said I Never Should. Methuen Student Edition. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd.

McIntosh, Peggy. “Understanding Correspondences Between White Privilege and Male Privilege Through Women’s Studies Work.”

Son, Diana. “R.A.W. (‘Cause I’m a Woman)”.

Stars. (2005). “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.” Set Yourself On Fire. Arts & Crafts Records.


  • At 7:17 AM, June 09, 2006, Blogger brian said…

    Good Friday morning,

    Just wanted to let you know that both Cooper and myself have linked you in today's posts.

    Have a great weekend.

  • At 2:30 AM, June 16, 2006, Blogger Ray "Raedien" Devine said…

    This is why I consider you a better student. Compared to this, I should have gotten an absolutely terrible grade.
    College is such a rip.

  • At 6:11 PM, June 16, 2006, Blogger Ogbuefi Stephi said…

    thanks again to both of you.

    ray, your piece was well-done as well. this just meant a lot to me. it was the project of a lifetime (or, a period in my life anyway)



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