Arts & Culture

Huxtable tackles identity in lecture

Incorporating various media and themes, Huxtable forges unique definiton of identity

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Through varied media including visual arts, photography, poetry and music, Juliana Huxtable explores the boundaries of identity. The artist shared how she carves out a unique niche of self-expression during a talk at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts Tuesday in the most recent installment of the Student Creative Arts Council’s 2015 Fall Lecture Series.

Huxtable’s work has been featured at institutions such as MoMA PS1, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2015 Triennial.

Chronicling her path of self-identification with respect to her own ethnic, gender and artistic identity, Huxtable detailed how she expresses herself through the variety of media she uses. Her work defies categorization as it grapples with diverse and interwoven themes relating to identity, varying from mythology and technology to ethnic and gender expression.

Huxtable’s work is defined by this irreducibility: Since her work encompasses a wide spread of media and themes, “it would be wrong to put her and her work in a single category,” said Isabela Muci ’16, co-director of the Student Creative Arts Council. “She’s much more than that, and that’s what her work is about. She plays with those categories.”

From the inception of her career, Huxtable said she has been inspired by her journey to comprehend her own identity by utilizing her body as a medium through which to express herself. Huxtable began by finding inspiration in nightlife, a way for her to tackle questions of identity and begin to explore self-portraiture. The process of getting ready and dressed up gave her a sense of embodiment and freedom that came with the performative aspects of nightlife, she said.

Her self-portraiture and modes of expression subsequently expanded to include self-documentation photography produced in tandem with poetry. These works simultaneously tackle numerous themes: Huxtable explores her relationship with her own body as a transgender woman, the intersection of Christian Liberation theology with science fiction and direct symbols of black history and black identity in the United States.

In her lecture, Huxtable described her process of deconstructing often-used symbols and tropes in her photography. In a self-portrait photograph, Huxtable, painted purple, squats between beds of black panther fur. Using the photo’s composition, Huxtable reinterprets the symbol of the black panther, interrogating its association with Black Power and resistance throughout history.

One of Huxtable’s poems, “Untitled (For Stewart),” opens with the phrase: “I always picked the girls when I played video games.” The block of text, screaming in all caps, delves into the definition of femininity in modern gaming culture, weaving together images of hyper-sexualized female video game characters such as Street Fighter II’s Chun Li.

Though Huxtable’s work incorporates her personal experiences as a black, transgender woman, “it’s not that the work is being created specifically in this queer-advocacy, feminist-advocacy box. She’s interacting with what it means to grapple with those categories,” said Jake Brodsky ’16, co-director of the Student Creative Arts Council. Huxtable’s work is “a new way to frame addressing identity politics because of the way she is able to simultaneously grapple with so many themes,” he added.

Students in attendance said they appreciated both the diversity and relatability of Huxtable’s work.

Sebastian Niculescu ’20, a Brown-RISD dual-degree student, said,  “It’s fascinating how far reaching her thoughts are and her work is. … It engages with much more than I had expected.”

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