By Xandra Ibarra
Ten years in burlesque has provided me with an intimate knowledge of the political and emotional consequences of performing with/against the fictions structuring Mexican/Chicana female subjectivity. Burlesque is touted as a primarily carnal art form associated with pleasure, sexual liberation and erotic agency. However I have found that the same representational power that prompts these responses (often from white audiences) is shaped and authorized by an erotic economy of white supremacy. For me, this dynamic of sexual empowerment leveraged by violent colonial constructs provokes a certain type of racial melancholia. That is, a melancholia that refuses substitution, that is stuck.1 This melancholy is intensified by an incompatibility with and alienation from white audiences. I am stuck with them (you). I am stuck with an artificial me through their (your) gaze. Hence the title of my current project: Fuck My Life, or FML.
I work within spic-tacle, that is, I attempt to perform spectacles of Mexican/Mexican-American myths and narratives that render the colonial gaze laughable. My hyperracial sexual performance work is a practice of responding to the call of exhibition. I aim to exhibit a type of spichood that interrogates modes of objectification. In essence, I make a spic of myself masterfully before you do. I reorganize Latina virgin/whore archetypes, fist piñatas, poke at your Mexiphobia, dance at your event in a giant Token costume and infest your stage with Cucaracha antics. Unfortunately, these political readings are lost or ignored by most audiences and, as a result, my spic-tacles fail. FML.
The failures of spictatorship are varied. For white audiences, the hyperraciality of my work trumps the accompanied performance of hypersexuality/gender because, to them, the performance of race erases all signs of gender and sexuality. In fact, the performance of race exists in a vaccum to most of my audiences, separate from the state, separate from gender, sexuality, and themselves. I become something other, violently fragmented. FML. Another common failure is the inability for audience members to think more critically in their consumption of racialized sexual spectacles. While there is a particular type of public fascination with my work from white audiences, they nonetheless never accept that I am, in fact, performing, “I hate this, I hate you. I am stuck with THIS and YOU, and it’s your fault.” I can never escape being seen as Latina bombshell-clown-whore on stage (and life), so I willingly reorganize hollow gendered Mexican iconographic symbols. I am making art about the way you view me, making it a spic-tacle and then giving it back to you. I hope that the work will denaturalize, humiliate, and discipline your gaze. Unfortunately, the audiences for whom I perform digest none of this. FML.
It would be too easy, however, to dismiss my enjoyment in the process, creation, and the anticipation of saying “fuck you.” There is a particular type of joy, pleasure, and jubilation in preparation. Leigh Bowery once said that there was an art to getting ready and that this was in fact the best part of the evening since, upon arrival to your destination, you discover that the party itself is a bore, a failure. I feel similarly about the performance of spictacles. The performance produces a state of “self-impoverishment” and racial melancholia. I am currently enjoying the preparation for the upcoming show in September. I hope that the audience will not disappoint.
1Cheng, A.A. 2001. The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. New Oxford University Press.
Xandra Ibarra is an Oakland-based performance artist, ecdysiast and community organizer from the El Paso/Juarez border that performs under the alias of La Chica Boom. La Chica Boom is a project that I have created in order to performatively question sexual/racial representation, queer formations, and compulsory whiteness.
FML runs Thu-Sun, Sep 20-30, 8pm, CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street, San Francisco
Photo: Xandra Ibarra by Johnny Crash