Coco Fusco (born June 18, 1960 in New York City) is a Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist and writer who began her career in 1988. Fusco has performed and curated throughout America and internationally, and currently is full-time faculty in the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design. Her recent work combines electronic media and performance in several formats, including large scale projections, and live performances streamed to the internet, inviting audiences to chart live-chat interaction. She is now developing a series of performances exploring the role of female interrogators in the War on Terror. Fusco's work explores the relationship between women and society, war, politics, and race.
Fusco was born in 1960 in New York City. She received a Bachelors degree in Literature and Society from Brown University in 1982, her Masters in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University in 1985, and her Doctorate in Visual Culture from Middlesex University (England) in 2005.
Fusco began her career as an assistant professor of visual arts in 1995 at Temple University. She became an associate professor in 1998, holding the position until 2001, when she transferred to be an associate professor of the arts at Columbia University in New York.
Coco Fusco has also presented performances and videos in some of the most prominent arts festivals worldwide, including The Whitney Biennial, Sydney Biennale, The Shanghai Biennale, Transmediale, and The London International Theatre Festival. She has published five books: A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self, The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings, Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas, and English Is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas. She has received fellowships and grants from over fifteen universities and organizations. Fusco also was on the College Art Association Advisory Board at Columbia, Cultural Politics Journal Editorial Advisory Board, was a member of the PEN American Center, the consulting editor at the NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art, and was on the Board of Directors of the Yaddo Artists Residency. In 2000 and 2002 she worked as a Critical Studies Tutor at the Whitney Museum's independent study program.
Fusco was also the recipient of the 1995 ATHE Research Award for Outstanding Journal Article and the 1995 Critics' Choice Award for her book English is Not Broken Here. She has also participated in eleven different curatorial projects, and in many lectures and conferences at universities and art schools since 1987.
A Room of One's Own: Women and Power in the New America (2006) Performance adaptable to any location, which deals with themes of women and war. In this performance, Fusco plays an American military interrogator, who explains to the audiences Virginia Woolf’s belief that women need income and privacy in order to express themselves creatively. Fusco then expresses that during the 21st century, American women have had the opportunity to use their sexuality and charm to be excellent interrogators and encourages women to do their part in promoting democracy by joining the military forces. These themes also appear in her book A Field Guide for Female Interrogators.
The Last Wish (El Ultimo Deseo) 1997 Site-specific performance at the Galeria Tejadillo in Cuba about death and the repatriation of exiled Cubans. Fusco lies beneath a black light in a long, white dress, surrounded by a design of white flowers in the shape of a rectangle to simulate a coffin. Inspired by the passing of her grandmother, the performance deals with themes of death, strength and immigration. Fusco's mother and sisters spent all of their young lives deciding upon where they would live, believing that their homeland was unimportant and had nothing to offer them. Her grandmother, who had experienced a life of hardship, was brought to the US to be supported by her daughters. Just after her 80th birthday, Fusco says, her grandmother went back to Barcelona to visit, checked into a hotel, lay down, and died in the night. Fusco states that when she traveled to see her grandmother at the hotel, there was not so much as a suitcase that her grandmother had brought along. To Fusco, it was as though her grandmother knew of her own impending passing, and wanted to be sure that it happened in her homeland.
Rights of Passage (1997) Designed specifically for the Johannesburg Biennale, the performance deals with themes of race and apartheid. The Biennale is a semi-annual art festival hosted in South Africa. Fusco wears the uniform of security personnel, issuing five thousand replicas of the South African passbook, to every person entering the Biennale. In apartheid days, the Afrikaner government forced black Africans to carry passbooks, which they would need to show when they entered white areas. The performance was meant to force people to identify the struggle of black Africans during the apartheid.
Stuff (1996–1999) Fusco and Nao Bustamante play off the stereotype which links Latin women and food with tourism and consumption through sexuality. The piece discusses Latin America's historical references to cannibalism, functioning as a symbolic representation international relationships (European and American consuming Latin America's resources), and eating food (representation of sex), to make a statement on how cultural consumption can make us uncomfortable with our own identity. This collaborative performance with Nao Bustamante, commissioned by London's Institute of Contemporary Art, deals with themes of tourism and stereotype. The performance premiered at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow and toured internationally.
The Incredible Disappearing Woman (2003) Multi-media performance with video projections about the US-Mexican border region. This collaborative play with Ricardo Dominguez, deals with themes of death, sex, art, and immigration between the US and Mexico. Audience members see the relationship among the characters in the room unfold. What binds these characters is their relationship with Death, played by a woman. The scene is represented as a chatroom, where those who log on may choose to pick from several galleries of social, political, and sexual taboo (the two live characters onstage role play the choices of the consumers). The performance is meant to make us question how much is too much information, and whether the increase in technological development in contemporary society is a good thing or a bad thing.
Dolores from 10 to 10 (2001) A twelve hour collaborative performance about surveillance with Ricardo Dominguez which deals with themes of degradation of women in the work atmosphere. Re-enactment of the story of a woman in Mexico who was said to have caused trouble at work. As a punishment, her boss locked her in her office without food, water, or a telephone for 12 hours, trying to get her to sign a letter of resignation. She later took the boss to court, but no one believed her. The piece is a selection of video footage with captions, featuring the interaction between the lady and her boss over the course of the 12 hours. This performance received Honorable Mention in 2003 at the Transmediale Festival in Berlin.
The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994) A collaborative performance piece with Guillermo Gomez-Pena which premiered at Columbus Plaza in Madrid as part of the Edge '92 Binnial during May, 1992. For about two years, the piece was displayed in prestigious art and natural history museums around the world. In the work, Fusco and Pena put themselves on display in a ten-by-twelve foot cage, advertising that they were native to a fake island off the coast of Mexico that was untouched by European culture, Guatianau. They outfitted themselves in uncommon, outrageous costume that were supposed to be representative of "the primitive" and performed outlandish "native" tasks such as sewing voodoo dolls, and eating bananas which were passed to them through the cage by museum guards. The pair would also perform for the audience; for a donation, Fusco would do a "native" dance, Pena would tell "authentic" Amerindian stories (in a gibberish language), and both artists would take pictures with the crowd. Fusco wore a grass skirt, leopard skin bra, sneakers and a baseball cap, and braided her hair. Gomez-Pena wore a breastplate, and a leopard skin wrestling mask. The pair decided to do the piece as part of a counter-quincentenary project protesting the official quincentenary celebrations of Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas. Both Fusco and Pena saw that finding historical justification for Columbus's actions became a way in which Western culture could assert its right to consume. Out of this context, the pair decided that they would take a vow of silence with the cage in opposition to this- both artists momentarily departing from their work as public speakers. The two hoped to use the project to explore the limits of "happy multiculturalism" that dominated American institutions. The pair was also trying to find an origin for the cultural link between the concept of "Otherness" and "discovery." Their performance is rooted in the American and European tradition of displaying indigenous people from other parts of the world in circuses, museums, and freak shows. In her book, "English is Broken Here," Fusco describes the dynamic between the performers and the audience members: "The cage became a blank screen onto which audiences projected their fantasies of who and what we are. As we assumed the stereotypical role of the domesticated savage, many audience members felt entitled to assume the role of colonizer, only to find themselves uncomfortable with the implications of the game" (Fusco 47).
- Allatson, Paul. "Coco Fusco, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and 'American' Cannibal Reveries." In Latino Dreams: Transcultural Traffic and the U.S. National Imaginary. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2002.
- Becker, Carl L. The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society, and Responsibility. New York: Routledge, 1994.
- Cenini, Martha. "Coco Fusco's Room: Rethinking Feminism after Guantanamo". n.paradoxa vol. 30, 2012.
- Cotter, Holland. “Caught on Video: Fantasy Interrogation, Real Tension.” The New York Times (New York). May 30, 2006, Section E/Column 1, Page 3.
- Fusco, Coco. English is Broken Here. New York: The New Press, 1995.
- Fusco, Coco (editor). Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.
- Fusco, Coco. Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self. New York: International Center of Photography in Association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 2003.
- Jones, Amelia. Performing the Body/Performing the Text. London; New York: Routledge, 1999.
- Wallace, Brian. Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
- Wallace, Michele. Black Popular Culture. New York: New Press, 1998.
- Warr, Tracy. The Artist’s Body. London: Phaidon, 2000.
- 2008: The Project, New York
- 2007: Killing Time, Exit Art, New York
- 2006: My Country, The Hungarian Cultural Center, New York
- 2006: A Room of One's Own: Women and Power in the New America, Performance Space 122, New York City.
- 2005: Collection Remixed: Learning to Read, Bronx Museum, New York
- 2005: Black Panther, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- 2004: Shanghai Biennial, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China
- 2003: House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
- 2003: The Incredible Disappearing Woman, ICA, London, UK
- 2000: El Evento Suspendido, El Espacio Aglutinador, Havana, Cuba
- 1999: Third International Performance Art Festival, Odense, Denmark Washington State University Museum, Pullman, WA
- 1999: Stuff, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
- 1993: The Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Fundacion Banco Patricios, Buenos Aires, Argentina Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
- 1992: The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
- 1992: Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
- 1991: La Chavela Realty Company, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
- 1990: Norte:Sur, The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA
- 1987: Havana Postmodern: The New Cuban Art, KCET Latino Consortium and for WNET's Hispanic
Coco Fusco works distributed by the Video Data Bank include:
- a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert (2004) 31:00 min, B&W, sound
- The Couple in the Cage: Guatianaui Odyssey (1993) 31:00 min, B&W and color, sound
- Operation Atropos (2006) 59:00 min, color, sound
- Pochonovela: A Chicano Soap Opera (1996) 26:38 min, color, sound
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2009)|
- United States Artists Official Website
- Allatson, Paul, "Coco Fusco, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and 'American' Cannibal Reveries." In Latino Dreams: Transcultural Traffic and the U.S. National Imaginary. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2002, pp. 253-306
- Fusco's website
- Coco Fusco in the Video Data Bank
- New York Times article on 'Operation Atropos'
- Description of Fusco performances