Paris Has Burned depicts the archives of Jesse Green, a New York Times journalist. In 1992, Green wrote a controversial article about the documentary Paris is Burning (1991), a portrait of the Harlem ballroom/voguing scene in the mid-1980s. In the foreground is the original iconic image of Angie Xtravganza that was on the cover of the paper’s Style section, and behind it, the copyset article. There are also notes between Green and his editors, arguing over pronoun usage. Then, the Times had only recently allowed the word "gay" to appear in print (as opposed to "homosexual"). Here the editors insisted that Angie be referred to as "he" despite her self-identification as a woman.
Paris is Burning always felt to me like the last thing I'd ever want to appropriate for art—the film itself is so deeply fraught with issues of appropriation and exploitation. But for that reason I ended up taking it on, because I wanted not only to express my anger and critique (of Livingston's off-screen agenda as a white filmmaker), but also to deal with my own discomfort about my agenda, and the problems I was having with trying to represent communities that were not my own. Who is to say who has a right to represent others, and on the basis of what claim, or what levels of "belonging" or authenticity? I discovered these questions spiral out in a most productive way.
In Voguish Vista, reflections create a view of remembered and anticipated moments of global interdependency. This montage of American-made clothing in Harlem portrays international chain American Apparel, as well as West African store Daisy’s Fashion Designs, where buying clothes, renting clothes and finding haute couture are all options.
Multiple shots are used to construct meaning between the elements, which allows contemplation of cultural products and structures as a way to understand how fashion and business influence daily life.
The storefront situates the artwork not just in Harlem, but also in the twenty-two countries where American Apparel exists. The existence of Daisy’s in Harlem, and now American Apparel, challenge attachments to static ways of looking. Location is conflated and displaced, and reflecting that meaning depends on perspective and angle. The throwback reflection on the glass of Occupy Wall Street questions, decodes and contests our relationship to capital, consumer choice and power.
I currently live and work in Harlem, on the west side, near 145th and St. Nicholas. I met Michael, 19, at the gym and asked if I could come to his house to take pictures of him. He said maybe, dodged me a few times and then finally agreed. This photo was taken in Michael’s bedroom, which he shares with his younger brother, Steven. Michael gave me a tour of his family’s apartment, but hadn’t mentioned to his mother that I was coming over. She was shocked, to say the least, to see me in her kitchen, taking pictures of her son standing on a kitchen chair.
We all chatted for a while. His mom and dad are from El Salvador and Michael was born and raised in Harlem and the Bronx. Michael’s mother talked about how Harlem has changed over the last twenty years—she asked him to look on YouTube to see if he could find videos of how streets used to look. We talked about how Columbia bought a chunk of the west side, and how the neighborhood might someday soon resemble NYU and the Village.
Michael works as a busser at a tapas restaurant in Williamsburg, which is also my old neighborhood.