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I Love Black Men: a post-White performance

by Katalin Halasz
29 Nov 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Post-Racial Imaginaries [9.2] | Commons

Katalin Halasz: ILBM | performance | 2011 | 8 Min. (Loop)

Paraphrasing the term ‘post-Black art’, referring to art about the black experience that attempts to dispel the notion that race matters, I coined my performance piece I Love Black Men ‘post-White’, to denote the fact that ‘white artists’ have never been charged with the burden of representation and the label of ‘white art’, with reconfiguring the construction of whiteness, the normality of it, and the politics of looking at it. In I Love Black Men whiteness is coloured and performed. The performance critically examines the construction of whiteness through testing assumptions of racialised hyper-sexuality and sexual desire grounded in the fetishisation of the black male body, and provides a direct way to speak out against objectification and categorization. It operates with stereotypes, and places the white female body as a site for exposing and challenging the discourse that posits an elemental attraction of white women to black men.

Text, sight and sound lies at the core of the performance. My performer, a white naked woman holds a white chalk in her hand and writes one sentence on a black board over and over again. I designed the setting to resemble a classroom, and taking the role of the teacher I instructed her to write the sentence ‘I Love Black Men’ on the black board for over a period of three hours, until she broke down from exhaustion (shown in an edited version here). Written in the first person, this simple text is employed as a way to make her enact perceptions of her race, gender and sexuality inscribed as a ‘believed truth’ on her body – on the body of a white woman. Her whiteness and femininity, differences of race and gender are reduced to the perception of visible differences that are bodily inscribed. The performing naked female body is the pivotal sight of the piece. The woman, almost identical to her naked body, is perceived as an object of sexual desire. In making public her nakedness, I Love Black Men renders her body as visual subtext in the construction of sexual desire attached to the fetish of the black male. Her whiteness is made visible through her appropriation of the black board; her visible and invisible markings of her race, gender and sexuality are at once skin-deep and hidden from sight. The nakedness of the woman could suggest taking pleasure in her own body, but as the performance evolves it becomes clear that it is taken away from her, turned into a sign of dis-possession, she is stripped off her own subjectivity. Her image remains visible to the viewer, but her voice is not heard; only the sound of the chalk, the increasingly violent movement of her hand that makes the chalk shriek on the black board. The woman, a sight without a voice, is under constant surveillance by the authoritative instructor, who establishes its power not only by making her write, but also by its freedom of being watched; its authority increases with the collapse of the woman under the burden of performing the act.

The way in which the performer enacts received ideas about herself indicates how stereotypes are perpetuated, and how they affect us at the very core of our own personality. Through the naked woman’s repetitive writing on the black board the sterile space of the staged classroom transforms first to a highly racialised and sexualised space which then gradually blurs into a place where common-sense assumptions about the nature of identity are thrown into question. Stereotypes are made to come apart and their assurances are gradually fading; fantasies of sexual desire at play and the myth of the sexualised black male that continue to haunt the collective imagination are re-viewed and unearthed. In the process of writing, the text I Love Black Men becomes smudged and broken, until it reads I Love Men or only I Love, suggesting the performer’s literal and intellectual struggle to comprehend the sentence and understand its implications, to the point when racial differences are left empty and thus forcing us to ask what they actually entail.


Katalin Halasz is a writer and artist researcher based in London and Berlin. She has written extensively on racism, minority rights and equality. She also uses film, installation, and performance to explore embodied concepts of race, gender, and sexuality. She is currently working on a practice-based PhD in visual sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her recent works include Freeing Up Shame, a risk-taking participatory performance first staged in Brazil, 2012 and Rewolucja, an award-winning experimental short film (2011).
All posts by: Katalin Halasz | Email

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