The notion of a “gendered voice” is a complicated subject, a subject that hits close to home and one that we continually question in our collaborative practice. Who determines the gendering of a voice and what are the implications of these categorizations? How does the gendered voice relate to issues of power?
It is impossible to talk about gender equality without acknowledging the multiplicities in genders, thus shifting the conversation of equality to include a plurality. For us, feminism is expansive and complex. It calls for the absence of discrimination and for a re-distribution of power and visibility for multiple demographics.
One’s biological sex and social identification with gender can change. We believe there is a power and a fluidity in the unnamable. It extends beyond gender. Our practice is specifically rooted in the idea that identity is malleable, that a “gendered voice” is fluid and shifting. Our interests lie in blurring the lines of predetermined categories of the body, breaking apart conventional parameters that structure how bodies are labeled in gender, culture, and race.
Due to the fact that individuals identify us as two women artists making work together about identity, we have often been invited to participate in exhibitions that are related to female artists and/or investigating themes of racial “otherness”—often specifically Hispanic “otherness” as assumptions are made based on one of our last names. Navigating through the ways in which themes are established in order to group artists for exhibitions has become as much a part of our practice as the work itself, as so often we are sought out to participate because we fulfill the very reductive “categories” we seek to complicate.
We are in no way stating that we are not feminists, proud of our cultural heritages, or denouncing participation in such shows that group us in such a manner. Rather, we are interested in complicating and questioning the manner in which these categories are established and so often used to subjugate the individuals they are ascribed to. When female representation in the art world is discussed, how do we account for cultural, racial, sexual, generational, and class diversity without generalizing? Is the only answer to count the number of artists with female pronouns and genitalia to measure the improvements in gender equality? In contrast, we question if it is possible to work toward equality, while simultaneously maintaining a fluid and shifting identity and resisting the language of categorization that is used to establish hierarchies of power.
We cannot have a discussion about the complications of gender and the implications of a gendered voice within the fight for equality, without discussing Judith Butler. Butler writes:
The effort to identify the enemy as a singular in form is a reverse-discourse that uncritically mimics the strategy of the oppressor instead of offering a different set of terms. That the tactic can operate in feminist and antifeminist contexts alike suggests that the colonizing gesture is not primarily irreducibly masculinist. It can operate to effect other relations of racial, class and heterosexist subordination, to name a few.1
Butler proposes that it is not effective to generalize the identity of our “oppressors”—and in turn, ourselves—as it mirrors colonizing power tactics. However we also understand there can be consequences to fluidity and an identity that insists on plurality, when we attempt to unify in order to address the laws of a “traditional” structure. How can political change occur without a generalizing vocabulary that establishes one unifying critical mass fighting for a particular agenda?
We are not proposing a solution. We both need and resist the language of categorization. Generalities offer an entry point. The fact remains that those in power in the art world—be it in the academic or financial realm—are primarily Anglo men. Value of work is created not from an objective or essential “greatness” that can be measured, but from an accumulation of researched deductions and particular value systems. The questions become, what is the value system we have come to embrace and standardize? Whose histories inform our deductions? If power is in the hands of a few, from a particular demographic and gender, then there remains an absence and invisibility of perspectives. It is easy to demonize and point fingers; it is much more challenging to re-think not simply about a specific population, but about the ideas and paradigms that direct who we listen to and what becomes visible.
1.Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York, NY. Routledge, 1990.