Tuesday, May 27, 2008

something old, something new

No matter how progressive and lovely a wedding is, it’s always a little weird to be a queer person at a public celebration of straight marriage. I had this thought Sunday afternoon as AK and I watched Joel and Holly exchange vows at Farnsworth Park in a ceremony that was traditional in some ways and modern in other ways and sweet and fun in all ways.

No more vague awkwardness allowed, I admonished myself. You can get married too these days. But the thing about history is that it sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear even when the conversation has moved on.

This is kind of the point, I think, of Kara Walker’s show, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, at the Hammer Museum. She’s known for her small and large silhouettes of antebellum tableaus. They feature white and black characters (though, of course, they’re all black in silhouette, which draws attention to the fact that we perceive race only partly based on color) in poses and situations that are frequently sexual, cartoon-ish, mischievous, stereotypical and highly charged. She’s tapped the vein of our historical subconscious, seemingly saying, “I know you gave me Macarthur grant and all, but I also know that, on some level, you’re thinking about my alleged animal sexuality, and I’m thinking about you thinking about it.”

History is not something to climb over but to muddle through again and again. I’m not saying unequal marriage laws are like slavery, but I think her exhibit is useful and resonant to anyone who feels like they can’t get up and brush themselves off as quickly as the larger culture would like them to. And it’s only at the Hammer until June 8, so get thee there.

Let me also say that Holly and Joel are moving weddings in a direction I like in at least one important way. Two words: dessert potluck. Out with the pretty-but-dry cake and in with the banquet table of banana pudding, fruit cobbler, moist red velvet cake and papaya strudel.


Don Cummings said...

Your post is going to FINALLY get me to The Hammer. Great post.

Cheryl said...

Yay! I love it when my arts proselytizing pays off.