Sharon Hayes’s In The Near Future from 2009 is described on her site as “a performance–based artwork in which Hayes stages anachronistic and speculative protest actions in an ongoing investigation into the figure of the protester, the speech act of the protest sign and the contemporary political construction of public space and public speech.”1 Included in these protest signs is the historic I Am A Man poster from the Memphis Sanitation strike in 1968.
Now, I find myself with questions. I appreciate performances that ask questions of the audience and use sometimes debatable ethics to make us think harder– I appreciate Hayes’s use of signage as an act of reperformance and solidarity, but where is the line crossed from art to cultural appropriation?
I think of this especially now in the face of the current scope of what some call ‘identity politics,’ where legislative initiatives aim to determine in language what makes someone a person, a man.
I was not a man when I started this performance. I am not a man right now. Was I a man when I utilized my right to vote? Am I still a man if a queer person like me is not included on the US census? Am I still a man if I have no gender at all? I am not a man today.
1Sharon Hayes, In The New Future, 2009.