Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cowboy Brute, Uterine Loot

I just read the piece “Point/Counterpoint: Art or bloody shame?” in the LoveIt/ShoveIt section of Bitch magazine (Fall ’08 Issue No. 41). I was horribly disappointed by this write-up. I was actually astonished at the conservative stance these writers took re: the controversial senior art project created by a Yale student named Aliza Shvarts. Long and short (but you should really read the piece and google her to get more stories): Shvarts’ project entailed “the documentation of a nine-month process in which she artificially inseminated herself as often as possible, then took abortifacient herbs to cause miscarriages” (Bitch 18). It sounds like the project involved artifacts and video documenting this process. Shvarts was stopped from installing the piece and she instead submitted something else.

Both “point” and “counterpoint” sides of Bitch’s write-up seem to come at Shvarts’ work in ways that are to me totally antithetical to the idea of “choice.” One side decided to get into the boring old debate about whether or not this is “shock” art, the other side agonized over what this would do to the validity of the “pro-choice” movement… fucking spare me! There is nothing “pro-choice” about any “pro-choice” mission if it claims that IDEALLY women would only seek abortions as a last resort, or that education should be aimed at preventing abortions because this is actually what “we all” want. Excuse me? Check your ethnocentrism and personal mandates at the door please.

There are many women all over the world who see abortion as a completely legitimate and preferred method of terminating pregnancy and that perspective, my panty-twisted-sisters, is no less “moral” or more “grotesque” than the sweeping expectation that we ALL should be pro-choice BUT try to make abortion less “necessary.” Wait.. no “BUT.” Choice with stipulations isn’t choice, particularly when choice is being debated in a discourse of morality. Last time I checked, morals and measures for what counts as “grotesque” were pretty subjective and the cause of much disagreement.

Here’s a snippit of what I think Shvarts had to say:

From what I’ve gathered, Shvarts was asked to clarify if her project was real versus “just a hoax.” Seriously? So now in the art world, we shouldn’t blur the rigid dichotomization of “truth” and “fiction?” We are supposed to worry about the realness of Shvarts’ project? Kara Walker, one of the most inspiring and brilliant artists (in my opinionated opinion) has also frequently been criticized for a) unapologetically—or some have even said shamelessly—disrupting and retelling slave narratives and b) presenting a perspective that troubles, responds to, and calls into question so-called factual and historical renderings. You mean like there might be another story that can be imagined or revealed or shared? I get sarcastic in the face of this kind of opposition; can’t we please just move beyond these traditional, conservative debates?

I have been working on a multimedia art project since May 2007 that deals with the idea of “Indianness,” in particular, a post-colonial Indian subject. But more particularly even, it deals with intersections of national identity, costume, race, grief, gender, text, sexuality... One of the things I’ve spent time researching is the history of cowboy boots in exchanges and interactions between self-named “cowboys” and Native Americans. It doesn’t surprise me that that colonizers mistook Native Americans for Indians but don’t you think it’s “shocking” and “grotesque” that the latter term is still applied?

There is so much I just don’t know about this country-singer-turned-ironic-hipster fashion footwear. The transformations in cowboy boot design—the array of pointed toes, evolution of steel inserts, and varied shaft height—are all masked and narrated (especially if you look up cowboy boots on wikipedia) as practical accommodations for horseback riding and improving riding maneuvers in general. But what pop sources won’t tell you is that these shifts in design also had to do with facilitating the larger project of white supremacy and coercion, in essence making it easier to injure “Indians” through physical combat. This footwear has roots in something so unmistakably violent (not only toward the animals of which they’re made)… a real piece of Americana. And that’s a fact. Or a hoax. There can only be two “choices” right?

In news today, a pregnant woman’s water breaks ruining designer cowgirl boots. Witnesses say the woman was leaving work at abortion clinic, walking toward her parked Cherokee jeep when the incident took place.


mikey said...

thanks for having me read the art piece in BITCH. it goes to show that you never know how conservative people can be until they really have to commit to what it truly might mean to be pro-choice, like feminists who turn their noses at sex work ("too demeaning, i mean, who would DO THAT? not like my totally non-demeaning work of writing papers for the university system or training resident advisors to talk to freshmen about wet dreams" - oh yes, true story), or or or pants whose legs are too fuckin wide. to fuckin wide!

Little Ms Whatshertights said...

you should write a guest blog about wide-legged pants.

molly t. said...

you are so smart. i love your blog so much. and if i had just read this post earlier, i wouldn't have had to send out that text about ethnocentrism this morning. love love love.

Emili said...

hi! i know this is a super old post, but would you mind pointing me to some sources you've found about cowboy boots? my dad (a white, cis middle-aged straight man of jewish descent) likes to wear them to his work as a copyright lawyer. i think they make him feel "edgy." i try to challenge him whenever i can!

thank you so much! i just found your blog and it's awesome.

Little Ms Whatshertights said...

Hi Emili,

Ah dads! I wrote this blog in response to the controversy surrounding Shvarts' work. I was trying to challenge the truth/myth binary that seemed to undermine her art project and the broader context of "autobiography." That said, I'm not sure if/where there are sources that would agree and support my re-imagined, re-visioned account of (American) cowboy boot lore... But if you find anything I'd love to know.