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TBA Series: Vaginal Davis and The Transformative Power of (Freaky) Sexuality

Carly Naughton

Vaginal Davis’s preformative lecture “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo—Black Images and the (e)motive Notion of Freakiness” took place during the Time Based Arts festival at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art. Vaginal Davis, an L.A. native who proclaimed several times she never learned to drive, showed several short clips from her video works including That Fertile Feeling, a collaborative piece with Fertile Latoya Jackson in which she gives birth to eleven-tuplets, and The White to Be Angry with Pedro, Muriel, and Esther (PME). The selected clips from The White to Be Angry featured an obese white woman indocternating her skinhead son in a room decorated in confederate flags and Nazi memorabilia as well as said skinhead gazing lustfully staring at a black, gay man dressed in casual clothing on the streets of Los Angeles. Davis goes on to explain the mutual fetishism between the skinhead and the black gay man, both gaze at one another as both the Other and as a sexual object. Clips from the blaxploitation films that influenced Vaginal Davis, Mandingo and Petey Wheatstraw, were also included to contextualize the freak as a hypersexualized and racialized subject.

The freak is an inherently racialized and queer concept; Davis traces the linguistic lineage of terms like “punk," originally used in the south as black prison slang meaning a freak or queer, and “Jesus Freak”, which has its roots in black church culture. She refers to black eccentricity and large scale queerness as the lineage of freakhood. Davis’s conceptualizes the racialized freak as both sexual object, the subject of white desire, and sexual subject, like the black gay man who desires the skinhead in The White to Be Angry. Vaginal Davis’s notion of the freak is racialized and sexualized, however she does not aim to dismantle the legacy of the freak. Instead, she frames weirdness as resistance and sexuality of the freak as a tool to be utilized in the quest for liberation. The embracing of freakiness, and by extension fetishism, subverts the white gay assimilation into corporate culture and celebrates the preformative and sexual nature of the freak.

Photo: http://pica.org/event/vaginal-davis/