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Coco Fusco (born Juliana Emilia Fusco Miyares, June 18, 1960 in New York City) is a Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist and writer. Fusco has performed and curated throughout the US and internationally. Fusco's work explores the relationship between women and society, war, politics, and race.
Early life and education
She was born in 1960 in New York City. She attained a Bachelor's degree in Literature and Society/Semiotics from Brown University in 1982. She later attained a Master's of Art degree in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University in 1985 and a Doctorate in Art and Visual Culture from Middlesex University (England) in 2005.
Fusco began her academic 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, a position she held until 2008. From 2008-2013, she was an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Parsons The New School for Design, and in 2014, she received a Fulbright appointment and served as the Distinguished Chair in the Visual Arts at Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado in São Paulo, Brazil for one year. She taught at MIT as an MLK Visiting Scholar in 2014-15, and currently serves as the Andrew Banks Endowed Chair at the College of the Arts at University of Florida.
She has also presented performances and videos in some of the most prominent arts festivals worldwide, including The Venice Biennale, The Whitney Biennial, Sydney Biennale, The Shanghai Biennale, Transmediale, and The London International Theatre Festival. She has published six 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, and Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba. 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.
In 2012 Fusco was named a Fellow of United States Artists. 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.
In 2013, she was the recipient of the Absolut Art Writing Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship.
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. In the performance, 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. Fusco states "For the Johannesburg Biennial I created a piece that had to do with the classification of people and the imposition of identity through documents, legal documentation, in the history of apartheid. That piece was called Rights of Passage. I was dressed up as a South African policewoman and actually designed, with a graphic designer, simulations of the old South African pass books. But instead of now only being giving to blacks and those designated as colored they were for everybody attending the Biennial."
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 Highway Performance Space and London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, the performance premiered at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow before touring internationally.
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.
Observations of Predation In Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist (2013) The chimp psychologist from Planet of the Apes returns after 20 years in hiding to share her observations of predatory behavior in human beings. in Art21 magazine, Fusco expounds " Zira stood out not only because she is an outspoken feminist and pacifist but also because she acts as a bridge between the apes in the films and the human protagonist, Taylor. Even if her culture refuses to see humans as equals, her curiosity and rigor as a scientist compel her to step outside her culture’s discursive limits. Those aspects of her character appealed to me." The performance was commissioned by The Studio Museum in Harlem and premiered in December 2013. Also presented at The Walker Art Center, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Participant Inc. The performance was presented at the House of World Cultures in Berlin and Yerba Buena Art Center in 2015.
The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994) A collaborative performance piece with Guillermo Gómez-Peña 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).
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 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.
- Havana Postmodern: The New Cuban Art (1987), KCET Latino Consortium and for WNET's Hispanic
- Norte:Sur (1990), the Mexican Museum, San Francisco
- La Chavela Realty Company (1991), Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
- Smithsonian Institution (1992), Washington, D.C.
- Field Museum of Natural History (1992), Chicago
- The Whitney Biennial (1993), The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Fundacion Banco Patricios, Buenos Aires, Argentina Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
- Third International Performance Art Festival (1999), Odense, Denmark Washington State University Museum, Pullman, WA
- Stuff (1999), Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
- El Evento Suspendido (2000), El Espacio Aglutinador, Havana, Cuba
- House of World Cultures (2003), Berlin, Germany
- The Incredible Disappearing Woman (2003), ICA, London, UK
- Shanghai Biennial (2003), Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China
- Collection Remixed: Learning to Read (2005), Bronx Museum, New York, NY
- Black Panther (2005), Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY
- My Country (2006), The Hungarian Cultural Center, New York, NY
- A Room of One's Own: Women and Power in the New America (2006), Performance Space 122, New York, NY
- Killing Time (2007), Exit Art, New York
- The Project (2008), New York, NY
- Art Basel Miami (2012), Miami, FL
- Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2012), Houston, TX
- Studio Museum in Harlem (2013), New York, NY
- New Museum (2013), new York, NY
- Walker Art Center (2014), Minneapolis, MN
- Venice Biennale (2015) Venice, Italy
- Alexander Gray Associates (2016), New York, NY
Coco Fusco works distributed by the Video Data Bank include:
- La Botella al Mar de María Elena (The Message in a Bottle from María Elena) (2015) 44:00, color, sound.
- La Confesion (2015) 30:00, color, sound.
- Operation Atropos (2006) 59:00 min, color, sound
- a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert (2004) 31:00 min, B&W, sound
- Pochonovela: A Chicano Soap Opera (1996) 26:38 min, color, sound
- The Couple in the Cage: Guatianaui Odyssey (1993) 31:00 min, B&W and color, sound
- 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.
- Fusco, Coco. A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, New York, Seven Stories Press, 2008
- Fusco, Coco. Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba, Tate Publishing, 2015
- 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.
- Aldama, Frederick Luis (2000). St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press; Gale Virtual Library. p. 185.
- "Coco Fusco", Alexander Gray Associates, Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- United States Artists Official Website
- "The Last Wish", Alexander Gray Associates, Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- "MoMA conversations".
- "Stuff", Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- 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
- Weatherstone, Rosemary. "Stuff review", Project MUSE, Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- Alba, Elia (August 5, 2014). "Uncaged: Coco Fusco and the Planet of the Apes". Art21 magazine.
- "Coco Fusco - The Incredible Disappearing Woman", Alexander Gray Associates, Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- Fusco's website
- Coco Fusco in the Video Data Bank
- New York Times article on 'Operation Atropos'
- Description of Fusco performances
- Article Fusco wrote for the Brooklyn Rail about the controversy around the 2014 Whitney Biennial
- BOMB Magazine — Coco Fusco by Elia Alba