A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America

(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, January 2013)

A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America (2006) by Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco (born 1960 New York City) is a powerful performance inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous essay, which deals with women and war.

The show begins with the artist wearing the typical U.S. army uniform, and she is on a stage performing the role of an interrogator. The American flag opens behind her and two screens: one projecting the traditional image of the eagle, the emblem of United States, and the sentence: United we stand. The other shows a CCTV live video of a prisoner in an interrogation room of Guantanamo. In this setting, Fusco makes the traditional military salute.

As a whole, the flags, the salute, and the other symbols transmit the same feeling and pride that reigns among the American soldiers, and their belief in a mission of developing civilization and democracy in the name of freedom.

As part of the performance, there is a manual in a PowerPoint presentation entitled, A Field guide for Female Interrogators’ describing the ‘tactics’ of interrogation. The use of this manual is and employs the hegemony of the power. In her speech, she satirically emphasizes the great achievement on the part of women and the use of their femininity in joining the war.

The entire performance addresses the Guantanamo Bay Camp and Abu Ghraib and is focused on the “Arab subject.” The manual refers to Arab inhibitions in relation to sexuality, exposure, homosexuality, nudity, shame, and taboo; and arrogant women half-naked making explicit sexual gestures against the prisoners and violating their “religious doctrine.” The woman is playing the role of a heroine, who triumphs against evil Muslims.

Through her work, Fusco reminds us that the conquest of sexuality has nothing to do with reversal roles of power and submission, and that it is not a competition of physical attributes.

A Room of One’s Own addresses the theme of military interrogations and demonstrates that the mission of civilization hides a policy of oppression, which leaves very little room for the value of democracy, freedom, and respect of cultural and gender diversities.

Coco Fusco is an interdisciplinary artist and writer. Her work combines electronic media and performance in several formats and explores the relationship between women and society, war, politics and race. She is a recipient of a 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Fusco’s performances and videos have been presented in two Whitney Biennials (2008 and 1993), the Sydney Biennale, The Johannesburg Biennial, The Kwangju Biennale, The Shanghai Biennale, InSite O5, Mercosul, Transmediale, The London International Theatre Festival, VideoBrasil, and Performa05. Her works have also been shown at the Tate Liverpool, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona.

Fusco is the author of English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (1995), The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings (2001), and A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (2008). She is also the editor of Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas (1999) and Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). Coco Fusco received her B.A. in Semiotics from Brown University (1982), her M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University (1985), and her Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture from Middlesex University (2007).


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