Raised Fists and Glitterbombs
 
Every year lgbtq “Prides” take place worldwide with festivals, events and parades.  In Gothenburg, as many readers will know, this event is called Westpride.  In numerous countries where lgbtq people are criminalized, structurally harassed or murdered these events have a crucial political significance in the fight for human rights and basic protection.  However, contemporary Pride festivals and parades in many major Western cities have been commercially co-opted and mainstreamed, so the party and consumerism most often dominates the radically subversive potential and political urgency from which the original Prides grew.  There is still a need to demand rights and express solidarity with those who are marginalized both within and by lgbtq communities and also with other groups who are being discriminated against.  We should remember that the parade is also a march.
 
While I have experienced the Westpride parade in Gothenburg to be much less commercially oriented -with activist groups and organizations such as Ingen människa är illegal taking space and demanding visibility –I would insist on more room for the raised fists in the streets of Gothenburg.  I was invited to participate in an art exhibition as part of Westpride (2014) to take place at the Stadsbiblioteket, located at Götaplatsen, which is where the Pride parade begins.  This presented the perfect opportunity for me as an artist, working often with performance art, to instigate both conversation and action around Pride. Having long been inspired by the raised, clenched fist as a symbol of protest, demanding rights and showing solidarity it seemed appropriate to activate the symbol during Pride. In the windows I hung a selection of hand drawn ‘protest’ banners that displayed fist symbols from various minority groups as a homage to past and current struggles.  I also organized a 4-day drop-in workshop where people were invited to make  ‘fist prints’ using paint to leave a mark of their own fists on large banners and small flags.  The large banners were filled with hundreds of fist prints, and as part of a performance I hoisted the banners onto the flagpole outside of Stadsbiblioteket on Kungsportsavenyn.  I rotated the banners throughout the days leading up to the Pride parade so everyone’s fist could fly along side of and in dialogue with the rainbow flags that also lined the streets.  I asked people to protest together during the ‘parade’ carrying their small fist flags and together many of us marched with the larger banners.  Through this exhibition, workshop, performance and participatory piece I tried to combine performance art and activist strategies as a call for action, for solidarity and for empowerment. In return I experienced immensely rich conversations about social justice and met people whom I marched beside with raised fist during Pride.
 
Queer Performance Art for Social Change
As a queer identifying performance artist I am indebted to and inspired by what I consider to be a powerful history of and link between social activism and queer performance art through shared strategies of critically challenging Western society’s organizing principles of gender, sexuality, race, class, migration status and dis/ability.
 
Performance art as a live, visual art is a young genre that often presents challenges to traditions of bodies, space and behavior. Amidst ongoing issues of social injustice, queer performance has specifically acted as a site of resistance through the experiences of its practitioners and the demands of the queer community for alternative possibilities of articulating space, action, kinship, bodies and survival.  Queer performance and activist strategies of agency, community and awareness can be used to combat individual and structural discrimination.  Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña states, “Our bodies are occupied territories. Perhaps the ultimate goal of performance, especially if you are a woman, gay or a person "of color," is to decolonize our bodies; and make these decolonizing mechanisms apparent to our audience in the hope that they will get inspired to do the same with their own.”
 
So much becomes at stake for queer performance artists when linked to critical explorations of identity politics and civil rights. Out of necessity and desire queer performance art for years has navigated and thrived in the margins of ‘acceptability’ with a history founded on protest performances on the streets, clubs, illegal bars and peoples’ homes.  For example the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) placed a bed at an abortion rights protest in Chicago, and The Freedom Bed (1989) served as a site where humorous and serious safe-sex skits were performed. For ACT UP a crucial strategy in ‘difficult circumstances’, such as that experienced by gay men in the 1980s ‘AIDS Crisis’, was the insertion of what can be considered ‘tactical frivolity’ that incorporates humor, performativity and peaceful non-compliance in reaction to social injustice. Acts of tactical frivolity might include pieing (throwing a pie in someone’s face), glitter bombing (throwing glitter onto someone) or embodying types of camp and drag. 
 
Performing Defiance
Thinking along with both the celebration and the protests that early Pride Marches embodied I strive to use my own queer performance art as a vehicle for political awareness.  Along with the raised fist, I am excited by countless other acts of protest, symbols of solidary or gestures of defiance.
 
In a recent live work Performing Defiance- performed in Umeå, Chicago and Copenhagen between 2015 and 2016, I referenced the act of glitter bombing, enacted the raised fist gesture and used a pink triangle-the iconic and reclaimed symbol for homosexuality.  Performing Defiance consists of a cycle of actions that allow me to embody modes of endurance, exhaustion and messiness that often occur during extended protests. The actions involved me jumping, raising my fists to hit the giant pink latex triangle that was suspended above me. I eventually jumped on boxes in order to get higher so I could make full contact with the triangle. On top of the triangle was a massive amount of glitter that I punched into the air until it poured down from the triangle.  I gathered all the glitter from the floor, threw it back up onto the triangle to begin the cycle again. This seemingly absurd endeavor went on for an hour accompanied by a soundtrack of recordings echoing loud, humorous, rhythmic, violent and silent protests from around the world.
 
Earlier this year at 13 Festivalen, a performance art festival at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg, I did a performance called This is not a party.  This live work was a re-activation of objects thrown at demonstrations such as raw eggs, bricks, glitter, tomatoes, water balloons, flour and shoes.  These objects were placed inside of 12 disco ball piñatas, which I tried to beat out with a wooden bat as an enthusiastic audience cheered me on.   I was blindfolded and constantly missed the piñatas, slamming the concrete floor with the bat both jarring my body and our ears as it cracked the floor.   When contact was made substances were slung across the room leaving trails of raw egg swinging from the structures and clouds of flour in the air. Juxtaposing play, protest and violence this continues my investment in thinking along with queer histories that can be messy, difficult, joyful and humorous.
 
Honestly, these are the things that I am thinking about right now-May 2016. 


A Swedish translation can be found at:
http://kulturivast.se/konst/mary-coble-hojda-knytnavar-och-glitterbomber
 
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