Love and Theft
1 February – 1 March 2007
This series of photos, taken on Halloween 2005 are part of of a larger project I am involved in which deals with displays of ‘ethnic drag’ and whiteness in Ireland. I am fascinated by the prevalence of these costumes portraying ethnic ‘others’ and I am interested in unpicking the reasons for their popularity. Ireland has a long history of blackface performance: almost from the inception of the minstrel show in the US in the 1820s, minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment here; this endured through most of the 20th century with the (British made) Black and White Minstrel Show being aired here until the early 80s. Given the location of the Context Gallery as part of the Playhouse building, I wanted to refer to this tradition and ask what this modern, homegrown version of minstrelsy says about an Irish concept of identity and otherness. At the same time, Ireland’s colonial history has given it a unique perspective among the nations of Western Europe. There is a sense of solidarity with other colonised or subaltern nations, visible, for instance in the flying of Palestinian flags. I am interested in how these markers of identity sit with the cross-racial mimicry depicted in my work.The photos on the outside of the building are digitally manipulated to isolate the individual figures: the street becomes the ‘black box’ stage and an ersatz lens flare highlights the use of the camera to capture the images, and also places the viewer ‘backstage’ or inside of the performance.The series of postcards The Colonial Harem: Scenes and Types are looking at another popular set of costumes: the ‘harem girl’ or belly dancer. I am relating these images to postcards produced in Algeria and Morocco in the early part of the last century. The faux-ethnigraphic postcards illustrate a Western fantasy or a ‘phantasm’ of harem life and were produced by French photographers for a French audience. These postcards, collected and interpreted by Malek Alloula in his seminal text, The Colonial Harem, were ‘everywhere’ in Algeria, “covering all the colonial space, immediately available to the tourist, the soldier, the colonist…[The postcard] is ubiquitous. It can be found not only at the scene of the crime it perpetrates but at far remove as well.” (Alloula)In the Ireland of today, of increasing immigration and ‘guest workers’, of the citizenship referendum and American troop transports refuelling at Shannon airport en route to Iraq, how can we read these performances of race? Do they work to construct or shore-up a communal sense of nation and ‘whiteness’? Do they, indeed, constitute a performance of whiteness through the means of a masquerade of blackness? Could they also be seen to represent a more ambiguous relationship to the racial ‘other, one of identification, commonality or desire?
Sara Greavu, originally from the USA, has resided in Derry for over a decade, and is currently completing a practice based PhD at University of Ulster. Previous solo shows include All Souls, Context Galleries, 2003; group shows include The Moore Street Lending Library, Dublin, 2005; b-lomo, Context Galleries, 2003; Resident, as a Context Artist in Residence with Bayview Educational Guidance Centre, 2003.