Enacting Others

Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith

Enacting Others

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 58 illus., including 18 color plates Published: March 2011

Author: Cherise Smith

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

The artists Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee have all crossed racial, ethnic, gender, and class boundaries in works that they have conceived and performed. Cherise Smith analyzes their complex engagements with issues of identity through close readings of a significant performance, or series of performances, by each artist. She examines Piper’s public embodiment of the Mythic Being, a working-class black man, during the early 1970s; Antin’s full-time existence as the fictitious black ballerina Eleanora Antinova for several weeks in 1981; and Smith’s shifting among more than twenty characters of different ages and racial, ethnic, gender, and class backgrounds in Twilight: Los Angeles. She also considers Lee’s performances of membership in cultural groups—including swing dancers, hip-hop devotees, skateboarders, drag queens, and yuppies—in her Projects series (1997–2001). The author historicizes the politics of identity by exploring each performance in relation to the discourses prevalent in the United States at the time of its development. She is attentive to how the artists manipulated clothing, mannerisms, voice, and other signs to negotiate their assumed identities. Cherise Smith argues that by drawing on conventions such as passing, blackface, minstrelsy, cross-dressing, and drag, they highlighted the constructedness and fluidity of identity and identifications. Enacting Others provides a provocative account of how race informs contemporary art and feminist performance practices.


“In Enacting Others, Smith effectively explores the shifting politics of identity and makes a strong case for her overarching claim that the interrogation of identity is an ongoing project in American art.” — Michelle Meagher, Liminalities

“Smith carefully contextualizes the work of the artists within the their art-historical milieus while arguing for the limits of these framings. This [is a] careful contextual consideration.” — Patricia Ybarra, American Literature

“Smith’s study helps us continue necessary discussions of how to stage our struggles against oppressions of all kinds, as well as to contend with the limitations of our own vision.” — Jayna Brown, Art Journal

“I welcome Smith’s willingness to grapple with the ambivalent feelings these artworks provoke.” — Helena Rickitt, Times Higher Education

“Cherise Smith’s strategic intervention into the art historical scholarship consists of interjecting into the narrative of women artists’ discourse since 1970 the discussion of artists’ enactment of the other as material for constructing and negotiating an empowered self-image.” — Jovana Stokic, Woman's Art Journal

“Smith avoids models of progressivism or generational overthrow in favor of a cool, evidence-based analysis. Following the artists’ tactics, the book moves from the relative simplicity of declaring singular, marked identity as a political position, through acknowledgment of intersectionality, to a universalist turn toward humanism, ending with postidentity positionalities. The strength of Smith’s analysis is that it is alert to the continuing evolution of the politics of identity in art.” — Margo Hobbs Thompson, Signs

Enacting Others is a worthwhile, boundary-crossing endeavor in its own right. By merging art history, politics, critical theory, and diverse modes of artistic creation and expression, Smith offers a stimulating reflection on issues of identity: how it is formed and negotiated, its arbitrariness, and its constructedness.” — Mark Seamon, Alabama Review

“Readers will gain much from the thorough analytical work that Smith has done to provide social, political, and theoretical context.” — Elise Morrison, Theatre Annual

“Smith’s clear prose and sharp-eyed observations make this book more than worthwhile for any reader. It leaves one pondering further how race is performed, staged, read, and recognized in the projects of an intriguing collection of important artists.”  — Jennifer DeVere Brody, Modern Drama

Enacting Others offers a timely reminder of how shifting notions of identity have vitally shaped, and continue to reshape, American art and politics. Contributing to studies of race and gender, performance studies, and art history, Enacting Others explores how boundary-crossing performances by four prominent artists engaged with contemporaneous discourses about identity.” — Ju Yon Kim, Theatre Journal

Enacting Others is one of the most intriguing art history books in recent years. . . . This is a book of tremendous importance that will do much to advance our understandings of not only the four artists under consideration but also the cultural, artistic, social, and political particularities of the moments in which their work was produced.” — Eddie Chambers, Nka

"Enacting Others is a worthwhile, boundary-crossing endeavor in its own right. By merging art history, politics, critical theory, and diverse modes of artistic creation and expression, Smith offers a stimulating reflection on issues of identity . . ."  — Mark Seamon, Theatre History Studies

Enacting Others is both an important primer on performance and an exploration of the U.S. obsession with race and its formations. Through impressive studies of four artists, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nikki S. Lee, Cherise Smith examines the remarkable reach of the embodied idea and the use of strategies from conceptual art to traditional theater, and tactics from cross-dressing to minstrelsy. Smith’s voice is a welcome addition to writing on contemporary art. It will redefine how we understand performance’s ability to display and address differentials of power.” — Kellie Jones, author of EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art

“Cherise Smith writes eloquently against the notion of post-identity politics, using her understanding of the persistent ‘politics of identity’ to trace the boundary-crossing practices of these four important artists. Smith discusses spectators’ identification strategies, but keeps an astute critical eye on the material corporeal circumstances of living within identity at this particular historical moment. From minstrelsy to passing, drag to embodiment, Smith parses theoretical tropes to study performance as a laboratory for experiments with human identity. Using personal memory and theory alongside political insights, the book treats a useful range of examples, from popular culture, to film, to art historical performance, to performance in everyday life. Enacting Others makes a vital contribution to gender and critical race studies.” — Jill Dolan, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cherise Smith is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Texas, Austin.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. "The Politics of My Position": Adrian Piper and Mythic Being 27

2. The Other "Other": Eleanor Antin and the Performance of Blackness 79

3. "Other-Oriented" Performance: Anna Deavere Smith and Twilight: Los Angeles 135

4. Nikki S. Lee's Projects and the Repackaging of the Politics of Identity 189

Conclusion 233

Notes 243

Bibliography 277

Index 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4799-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4782-8
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