The Hidden Pinup | HOME | 13th January, 2019

The Hidden Pinup is a seven-minute performance that could be unpacked for hours. The piece moved like a slow zoom from a burlesque fantasy in to the complex history of the black pinup and the ongoing fetishization of women of colour.

The theme of beauty giving way to complication ran throughout the piece from concept to execution. Before the performance, House of Ghetto choreographer Darren Pritchard provided a short background, including detailing his collaboration with artist Gemma Parker. Parker, in addition to conceptualizing the performance, made the costume from hessian: a rough material meant to evoke the ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ stereotypes that have historically accompanied depictions of women of colour.

Miss Celie’s Blues played over the first half of House of Ghetto Lenai Russel’s traditional burlesque fan dance. A house beat took over for the second half where Russel’s voguing was accompanied by the spoked word of Justina Aina. From afar, the hessian fans and costume had the silhouette of the the traditional ostrich feather, but as Russell got closer, the material came into relief, as did some of the words embroidered onto it.

These words, collected during the creation of the piece, were all things that, as Pritchard emphasized, had been actually said to black women by men. During the second half of the performance, Aina echoed these phrases to Russell, who did not engage.

“I’m not really into black girls but”

“Can I touch your hair?”

“Date me I love jerk chicken”

“Do you prefer white guys?”

More taunt than come-on, Aina directed the words at both Russell and the audience, implicating them in the acceptance of stereotypes and fetishization that black women continue to endure daily. The performance was powerful, beautiful, and funny. The unexpected humour is an aspect that Aina, with whom I spoke afterwards, sees as a way to ease people into difficult discussions.

A Sunday afternoon in the Ground Floor Gallery of HOME seems like an unlikely place to stage a burlesque/vogue, but this is their second time performing the piece in a gallery (the first of which took place at the Whitworth late last year). Russell and Aina discussed with me the need to normalize these conversations, making it as appropriate to stage the performance in front of families as in a club. Part of this was exemplified in the invitation to remain after the performance and discuss the piece with the artists. The fans were lain on a table for closer inspection, while all four people behind the piece spoke openly and generously with the audience members.

The Hidden Pinup was part of PUSH Festival, which runs until Saturday, January 26th and includes performances, events, workshops and exhibitions. The full program can be found here.

See Gemma Parker’s blog for more about the creation of The Hidden Pinup and a closer look at the costume.

House of Ghetto is working on a vogue development program in Leeds and Newcastle, with plans to reveal an exciting new project soon.

reviewed by Marsha Courneya

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