Vaginal Davis: The White to Be Angry
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, United States01 Feb 2020 - 26 Apr 2020
Vaginal Davis is a key figure in the history of queer music, performance, and video art. Naming herself after the activist Angela Davis, she emerged in the queer and punk club performance scene of Los Angeles in the late 1970s.
The artist created her own mythology during the live performances of her “multiracial, maxi-gendered” bands—an interplay between identify, fiction, and critique that also informs her influential xeroxed print publications, or zines, and later video work. Davis is a founding figure in the “homocore” movement that reinterpreted hardcore punk through queer cultures, as well as the art and music networks of the 1990s that influenced the emergence of the feminist punk Riot Grrrl movement.
Davis’s touchstone work, The White to Be Angry (1999), challenges constructions and desires around white supremacist culture as it circulates across the entire political spectrum. The title of the video is taken from Davis’s live performances and a music album her band Pedro, Muriel & Esther (PME) recorded in Chicago in the mid-1990s. The video is a visual album of songs as chapters, each referencing a different film director, separated by sequences of appropriated footage from television. Davis’s PME bandmate Glen Meadmore appears in a chapter riffing on Clive Barker playing a serial killer, while an Angeleno skinhead by the name of Edward Ghillemhuire plays a character who is both attracted to and violent toward the people his hate speech–spewing elders seek to demonize. The White to Be Angry embraces ambiguity and extravagant dark humor, creating an image of America that remains unnervingly topical today.