Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bring That Beat Back: Sutapa Biswas

I'm been thinking recently about the early days of SWEAT. One of my earliest posts in 2001 was on Sutapa Biswas, a video artist whose work I find challenging and startlingly pleasing. In that post I wrote about seeing Biswas' work "The Trials and Tribulations of Mickey Baker" at the Assembling the Eighties conference (which was about black British art of the 80s):

. . . Mickey Baker, a white British actor, stands naked in front of the open window of a house. This piece was (first?) shown in a show called "Krishna, the Divine Lover". Here, Biswas said she wanted to think about Krishna as a troubled individual. We are accustomed to thinking of Krishna as young and handsome and virile, Biswas said. But what about Krishna's troubles? What if he were old and portly? How would that enable us to think about Krishna? . . . I am still wondering . . . what her (exclusive?) use of white bodies in video art is about, especially with the piece "The Trials and Tribulations of Mickey Baker." Because even if we go on the fact that the artist's craft needs to be addressed, there are some aesthetic concerns the work brings up. I don't claim to know a lot about Krishna, for example, but I know he is brown, or maybe it would be more accurate to say blue. If it means something to depict Krishna as fat rather than muscular, old rather than young, depressed rather than fortunate, might it not mean something to depict him as pink rather than blue?
I wrote and published the poem "Video Krishna" in Black Renaissance / Renaisssance Noire. Here it is below, next to a still from Biswas' piece:

Video Krishna
to Sutapa Biswas
Sad and buck
naked. A man,
alone and almost
still, is staring
out of curtainless
windows. Is fat
and gray and (Why,
Sutapa?) pink.

What have your
small hands spun
for us? Where
do you tuck
this myth? What
mischief (in you)
weaves this god
this second life?

by Mendi Lewis Obadike
Black Renaissance Noire
Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer 2003


Blogger John K said...

Mendi, very good points. I also wonder about the transposition of Krishna here--isn't he a deity, rooted in a particularly imaginary (in Glissant's use of the term, not Lacan's), and if so, what does it mean to represent him as this man? I wonder the piece might have conveyed visually if she had painted Baker blue, which is how Krishna sometimes (often?) is represented, right? "Blue Krsna"--hmmm, that might make an interesting piece....

11:33 AM, October 27, 2005  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

Maybe it's a metaphor? As in "Krishna is [feeling] a little blue?

11:41 AM, October 27, 2005  
Anonymous audiologo said...

I am just riffing a response here, so I hope you'll bear with me...As I look at the image I am caught by the black loafers on the floor, toe atop toe, discarded gracefully and somehow simultaneously evoking loneliness and temporality. I don't know Sutapa Biswas' work or her stakes in racial/ethnic identity formation or its relationship to cosmological representations. Had you not identified the actor as white, I wouldn't have known if he was a light-skinned South Asian or not. The realities of caste an color in the mortal (corporeal?) realm are distinct from those in the cosmological, yes? I mean Krishna could be blue [-black] and Kali black [as coal], but the sacredness of color (blue, brown, or black), and the respect given its physicality on the ethnic body is something different. Which means the questions your poem and comment asks are the necessary ones--really begged for by the work.

3:52 PM, October 27, 2005  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

You're right, audiologo, to focus on the distinctions between cosmological and mortal/corporeal "looks". I suppose I have begun to ask these questions as I move from thinking about Baker as "white" to thinking of him as "pink", but I'm still left wondering how we know this is Krishna if he appears old, portly, troubled, and pink. I mean, we know he's Krishna because Biswas tells us that's who he is, but what challenges me is going where she's pointing. Where is she pointing?

11:27 PM, October 28, 2005  
Blogger John K said...

Mendi, the "blue" metonym (since it's an aspect of a psychological state, right, rather than a substitution) is one thing, but as audiologo says, there's the relation between the corporeal and what I guess one could call the metaphysical in terms of Krishna. What are his attributes? How are those reflected in the depicted body? I wonder if Biswas isn't pointing towards an interior space, a metaphysical space, because isn't it the case that while Krishna does descend from time to time to address religious strife, he is definitely never of this world, never fully material? I guess that's why I was thinking of the blued flesh--something to indicate a kind of non-standard materiality in the material world depicted by and constituted in the photograph....

mischief (in you)
weaves this god
this second life?

1:55 AM, October 30, 2005  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

Ah, I see. Yes, I suppose these are the crucial questions that someone should have posed at the Assembling the 80s conference. We were so stuck on what it meant to be artists of color that we never got to artists' use of color -- literal, metaphorical, or metonymic. Well, there's always reflection, at least.

5:36 PM, November 01, 2005  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home