Race and Constructions of Otherness in Visual Culture: The Art of Adrian Piper and Coco Fusco

Elizabeth Mengesha, '06

Elizabeth Mengesha, '06 self-designed poster (2005)
Race and Constructions of Otherness in Visual Culture: The Art of Adrian Piper and Coco Fusco: Poster of Presentation

In Fall of 2005, I worked with Visiting Professor Julie McGee on an independent study that examined race and constructions of otherness in visual culture. Although, I am a Comparative Politics major, I've worked on other art history research projects through the Mellon fellowship. In this independent study, I initially focused on contemporary American visual art exploring race politics, cultural identity, and various constructions of otherness. After a few weeks of general research on this subject, I focused my study on the art work of Adrian Piper and Coco Fusco. Piper, a former Professor of Philosophy at Wellesley College, is a conceptual and performance artist who incorporates her background in philosophy and her interest in race politics into her artwork. Fusco, a Professor of Art at Columbia University addresses transnational issues of identity, cultural exchange and race politics through performance and video art. In short, my independent study compared the ways that both artists addressed issues of race politics and otherness through visual and performance art.

Coco Fusco, a.k.a. Mrs. George Gilbert (2004) and
Coco Fusco, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Paula Heredia, The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey (1993)
Coco Fusco, a.k.a. Mrs. George Gilbert (2004) Coco Fusco Film Still

The format of my independent study consisted of weekly one to two hour long meetings with Professor McGee. During these meetings we discussed my completed readings and assignments for the following week. In addition to examining the work of Fusco and Piper, I also read extensively on conceptual art and performance art. As a final synthesis of all my research, I prepared a twenty page paper comparing the works of Piper and Fusco. In conclusion to my project, I presented my final paper, accompanied by art slides, in a public lecture titled "Performing Otherness: Mythic Beings, Amerindians and Other Constructs." My independent study was a very rewarding project. As my project mentor, Professor McGee provided strong academic guidance while encouraging my intellectual freedom and growth.