Between Hybridity and Monstrosity
March 2016 Commons
Adam de Boer
I am a trans-disciplinary artist and writer. I received my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and my BA from the University of Virginia. I am the recipient of a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and was a 2014-2015 HATCH Resident Artist at the Chicago Artist’s Coalition. My work was recently shown at THE SUB-MISSION, Mana Contemporary, and Monique Meloche gallery in Chicago and Smack Mellon in New York. My essays have appeared in The New Inquiry, 60 Inches from Center, and forthcoming in MICE magazine.
In my recent work on projects such as How to be a Monster, Bedtime Stories of White Supremacy, and #NewGlobalMatriarchy, I have harnessed my research interests (women of color feminist perspectives, black studies, post-colonialism, queer theory, etc.) to create work that infiltrates our cultural vernacular with radical imaginations of the future. The catalyst for this new work was How to be a Monster, where I performed as a series of Hindu goddesses who had become incarnated in our present culture. There is a long history of imagining the “other” as a monster, from medieval European accounts of South Asian art as “monstrous” up to Darren Wilson describing Michael Brown as looking like a “monster” in his grand jury testimony. Often, queer, female, and mixed-race bodies are viewed through the lens of monstrosity.
The goddesses inhabit this space of monstrosity (the realm of the outcast, the foreign, the abject), inhabiting the imagination of the dominant culture (capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal), but queering that imagination, using the fear as a place of power and agency, bringing that fear to the surface so that its power might be dismantled. The images produced are a collapse of history, where traditional South Asian painting styles collide with signifiers of race, class, and popular culture. Like the common and inexpensive prints of goddesses that these images reference, they are bright and immediately legible, but that immediacy quickly dissolves into a network of references and allusions that open up questions about power and identity.
The project continues with Bedtime Stories of White Supremacy and #NewGlobalMatriarchy where the Goddesses exit the imaginative space of the works on paper and out into the world, making friends and allies along the way, causing trouble and rethinking revolution.
I appreciated learning about Maya Mackrandilal’s recent work. It is hard to really visualize the performances through transcripts and still images alone, but they seem incredibly thoughtful and humorous. Using the history of the ‘monster’ is certainly a smart vehicle to make art about cultural interpretations.
I suppose I’d like to discuss the outcomes Maya mentions in her artist statement. I wonder how antagonizing the “capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal” fear of others (monsters) actually makes a “place of power and agency” for those not represented by that identity.
Maya’s strategy reminds me immediately of the comedy in the early work of Guillermo Gomez-Peña; whose stance against gringo supremacy and American foreign policy made some of the most interesting and entertaining performance art I’ve ever seen. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Gomez-Peña blatantly conflated highly charged iconography from various cultures and religions to produce militant forms of Chicano performance, where cultural signifiers and hierarchies were turned on their heads. Postmodern was the classification and irony was the tool. I wonder if that strategy is still as useful today as it was in that previous generation; when the “queering” discourse was only coming into being? If so, what new and powerful statement can be said with it today? How can mixed-race artists, of our generation, push these conversations and agendas to new territories for our contemporary context?
Adam de Boer
ADAM de BOER
ADAM de BOER
My current work addresses a hybrid cultural identity that I recognize in myself and throughout my generation. I was born in Southern California into a Dutch-Indonesian-American household. The loose self-definition in my family made it possible to have flexible belief systems and customs. Many of my generation whose families are cultural hybrids find their way to an ever-changing cultural identity. We live not just by the traditions from which we come but the unique paths we traverse. We are less aggressive about our place in the multicultural dialog than previous generations, having never experienced just one identity or the pressures of accompanying stereotypes. Our hybrid identities are still born from dislocation, but the strife has been either left behind or ignored.
In my most recent work, I revive previously dormant cultural histories and aesthetic traditions from my Indonesian heritage as a way to acknowledge that part of my identity. I’m learning my forebears’ traditional crafts of batik and wood carving, employing Javanese and Eurasian-specific imagery into my practice as a conceptual link to my heritage, while further pushing the crafts outside traditional boundaries. The handmade is significant to these crafts and in my own work as well. These experiments with batik take history head-on by questioning the use of iconography and the historical image in the present day, suggesting a return to the lo-fi aesthetic in an age of high-definition. With images informed by a Western childhood and education, I misappropriate and mutate craft traditions outside their prescribed abstract designs into hybrid forms. Successful work is predicated on the capacity of the batik and carvings to be viewed from different, and oftentimes conflicting, vantages. These conflicts do not call for resolution but for reconciliation and adaption, as I have indeed embodied them my entire life: East and West, local and tourist, authentic and illegitimate.
Adam de Boer (b. Riverside, California 1984) graduated with a BA in Painting (2006) from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and an MA in Fine Art (2012) from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London. Selected solo exhibitions include Finca (2010) at Flashpoint Gallery, Washington, DC, Jalan (2013) at Riflemaker, London, UK, Distinto Niveles de Bienestar (2013) at Escuela Taller, Bogotá, Colombia, Moving Monuments (2014) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Bend Sinister (2014) at the Indonesian Contemporary Art Network, Yogyakarta. De Boer has received various awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Cultural Development Corporation, the Santa Barbara Arts Fund, and in 2011 won the Arts for India Scholarship to support his post-graduate studies. In 2016, he received a Fulbright fellowship in Indonesia. Over the past four years he has participated in studio and teaching residencies in Spain, India, Colombia, Indonesia, and the United States.
Since 2011, de Boer has travelled throughout Java, his father’s birthplace, to begin investigating his Eurasian heritage. His recent work employs imagery and traditional crafts from the region as a way to connect his artistic practice with those of his distant cultural forebears.
De Boer currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how textiles provide us with a type of alternate history, a hidden code that can offer up clues about the erasures of our dominant historical narratives. For instance, I recently discovered that South Asian textiles were used as a form of currency in West Africa before the arrival of Europeans, pointing to a rich history of trade and cultural exchange before the violence of colonization. Both Adam and I draw on patterning as well as visual forms that typically fall into the “craft” (and thus outside of “high art”) designations as a way to more fully explore our subject-positions as mixed-race people in America. Adam’s work makes me think about how this choice could be seen as a visual disruption of the way we are trained to read “high art” and a strategy for remaking the past through the work we do in the present. It also makes me wonder if there is a “mixed race aesthetic” that we share, a desire to weave together the different threads of ourselves through our work.