FDP Colloquium - Dr. Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley (AADS)
Mon, February 25, 2013 • 3:30 PM • GEB 4th Floor Conference Room
To Transcender Transgender:
Haitian American Choreographies of Gender Fluidity in the Performances of Mildred Gerestant
In the 1990s, Haitian American performance artist MilDred Gerestant shot to fame in the drag king scene, dressing, dancing, and dragging as a smooth mackdaddy who played with and subverted stereotypes of African American masculinity. Her recent performance work, however, moves her musical citations from hip hop to Haitian Vodou: “DanceHaitianGender” and “Transcender” draw on Afro-Caribbean ritual, and particularly on Haitian lwas (divinities) Danbala, Baron Samedi, and Ezili, in order to meditate on culturally specific imaginations of gender fluidity. Her performances integrate masculine and feminine variations of these lwas in order to creatively embody the limits to global Northern vocabularies of “transgender,” suggesting an alternative in transcender: that is, in engagement with the submerged Caribbean epistemology of syncretic religions. This talk offers a close reading of “Transcender,” exploring how and why Gerestant turns to Vodou not merely as a religious practice, but as an epistemology: as the only way of knowing gender and sexuality sufficiently complex enough to choreograph the racialized and classed genders that Haitians negotiate at home and in diaspora.