African and African Disapora Studies Department
African and African Disapora Studies Department

Professor Cherise Smith Publishes 'Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith'

Tue, September 20, 2011
Professor Cherise Smith Publishes 'Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith'

About Enacting Others:

The artists Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee have all crossed racial, ethnic, gender, and class boundaries in works that they have conceived and performed. Cherise Smith analyzes their complex engagements with issues of identity through close readings of a significant performance, or series of performances, by each artist. She examines Piper’s public embodiment of the Mythic Being, a working-class black man, during the early 1970s; Antin’s full-time existence as the fictitious black ballerina Eleanora Antinova for several weeks in 1981; and Smith’s shifting among more than twenty characters of different ages and racial, ethnic, gender, and class backgrounds in Twilight: Los Angeles. She also considers Lee’s performances of membership in cultural groups—including swing dancers, hip-hop devotees, skateboarders, drag queens, and yuppies—in her Projects series (1997–2001). The author historicizes the politics of identity by exploring each performance in relation to the discourses prevalent in the United States at the time of its development. She is attentive to how the artists manipulated clothing, mannerisms, voice, and other signs to negotiate their assumed identities. Cherise Smith argues that by drawing on conventions such as passing, blackface, minstrelsy, cross-dressing, and drag, they highlighted the constructedness and fluidity of identity and identifications. Enacting Others provides a provocative account of how race informs contemporary art and feminist performance practices.

Praise for Enacting Others:

“I welcome Smith’s willingness to grapple with the ambivalent feelings these artworks provoke.”—Helena Rickitt, Times Higher Education Supplement

“In Enacting Others, Smith effectively explores the shifting politics of identity and makes a strong case for her overarching claim that the interrogation of identity is an ongoing project in American art.”—Michelle Meagher, Liminalities

Enacting Others is both an important primer on performance and an exploration of the U.S. obsession with race and its formations. Through impressive studies of four artists, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee, Cherise Smith examines the remarkable reach of the embodied idea and the use of strategies from conceptual art to traditional theater, and tactics from cross-dressing to minstrelsy. Smith’s voice is a welcome addition to writing on contemporary art. It will redefine how we understand performance’s ability to display and address differentials of power.”—Kellie Jones, author of EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art

“Cherise Smith writes eloquently against the notion of post-identity politics, using her understanding of the persistent ‘politics of identity’ to trace the boundary-crossing practices of these four important artists. Smith discusses spectators’ identification strategies, but keeps an astute critical eye on the material corporeal circumstances of living within identity at this particular historical moment. From minstrelsy to passing, drag to embodiment, Smith parses theoretical tropes to study performance as a laboratory for experiments with human identity. Using personal memory and theory alongside political insights, the book treats a useful range of examples, from popular culture, to film, to art historical performance, to performance in everyday life. Enacting Others makes a vital contribution to gender and critical race studies.”—Jill Dolan, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater


Professor Cherise Smith is an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin.


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