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Robert Vorlicky Performing Men of Color: Autoperformance, Highways Performance Space, the NEA, and the White Right America's art and culture are, more and more, openly anti-Christian, antiAmerican , nihilistic... While the Right has been busy winning primaries and elections, cutting taxes and funding anti-communist guerrillas abroad, the Left has been quietly seizing all the commanding heights of American art and culture.... A nation absorbs its values through its art. A corrupt culture will produce a corrupt people, and vice versa; between rotten art, films, plays, and books—and rotten behavior—the correlation is absolute. The hour is late; America needs a cultural revolution in the '90s as sweeping as its political revolution in the '80s. —Patrick Buchanan, Washington Times (1989) Early August 1995. 1 received a donation request from the artistic leadership of Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California . It was an urgent call for funds in order to help Highways, an alternative arts environment, in their words, "solidify our local base of support ." Why? Highways' 1995 Ecco Lesbo/Ecco Homo Summer Festival programming, "specifically by artists ofcolor, is being used as proof that the National Endowment for the Arts must be eliminated." The opposition's strategy: the "radical Christian right...have sent copies of our calendar to every member of Congress.... For the first time ever, only one organization is being targeted—Highways"—fordefunding. Senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kans), a "long-time leader in the fight for the NEA" and the current chair of the influential Senate Labor and Human Resource Committee (which makes direct recommendations to Congressional committees about the awarding of NEA funds), was quoted in Highways' appeal as having told the Washington Post that grants to Highways, specifically, had eroded her support: "I find it offensive to me...I strongly criticize using taxpayer dollars. It was not what we intended." Although Tm neither a member of Congress nor a California resident , I've been receiving Highways' calendar, its schedule of events, for several years now. A quick glance at former calendars (which are characterized by their stylish graphics, captions that are tongue-incheek , campy, or provocative, and photographs of performers or production stills that are unadorned, playful, or tantalizing) suggests that a popular performance mode is the solo performance; several are performed monthly at Highways by a range of artists. Among the various kinds of material that find their way into solo work, autobiographical 158the minnesota review content is noticeably favored in Highways' offerings. While it is a predominant mode evident during the lesbian and gay summer schedule, autoperformance is highly visible throughout the year—as an organization , Highways offers numerous workshops forSouthern Californians that encourage any artist (gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, transsexual, transgendered) to explore and to develop autobiographical material into public performance. At Highways, "the subject" is not only not dead, it is speaking out as though her and his lives depended upon it. II In a sexually grieving culture, conservative politicians exploited rampant homophobia under the guise of fiscal restraint to restrict the spending of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Nonreproductive performance art dovetailed with the nonreproductive ontology of homosexuality : conservatives used one to attack the other. All four performers "defunded" during the NEA scandal in 1990 [Holly Hughes, Karen Finley, John Fleck, and Tim Miller] make work which incorporates a sympathetic, if not evangelical, attitude towards homosexuality. (135) —Peggy Phelan, Unmarked Late August 1995. During a brief stay in Los Angeles, I attended one of the programs during the infamous festival in question at Highways that featured solo performances, "Copping a Feel: Gay Men of Color and Their Bodies." Of the six performers who presented material that evening, four self-identified the centrality of autobiographical material to their pieces: Luis Alfaro's Mirror, Mirror: Four Exercises in Futility, Jorge Ignacio Cortinas's Temple Drums, joel b. tan's In His Arms, and James E. Sakakura's James at 36. Of the four, Mr. Sakakura's piece is perhaps the most vivid example of the kind of striking experience— textually, visually, and politically—that can be created within the interactive dynamicsofautobiographical text, actor's body, and performance strategies. (Alfaro's piece, it should be noted, also works well...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 157-167
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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