Joy Mariama Smith creates spaces in which visitors are invited to investigate questions of identity and access. Their* newly commissioned performance Fou Fou uses the American children’s song “Little Bunny Foo Foo” to examine the thin line between personal freedom and oppression. The song describes a rabbit who harasses field mice by hitting them on the head until the creature is eventually punished by a fairy. The oblivious manner in which the rabbit inflicts violence on the field mice—and its refusal to acknowledge or rectify any wrongdoing—effectively safeguards its sense of entitlement in acting this way. By abstracting the song’s narrative, Smith uses it as an allegory to investigate how all of us are implicated in violent constructions of freedom.
In the interactive performance, Smith invites the audience to contemplate their own relationship with freedom, agency, and identity as they relate to performing bodies. As the rabbit, field mice, and fairy continually interact, viewers are asked to move, turn, stand back to back, and accept, reject, or transcend certain ideas of freedom in order to raise awareness around their own tendencies, habits, and biases. Within this work, Smith also considers how agency and access are negotiated in the museum, a public space where certain groups are less represented than others. The issues raised by a seemingly insignificant children’s song reveals how deeply ingrained oppression and privilege are in the fabric of Western cultures.
The work is accompanied by Smith’s multimedia installation Free Fou Fou. Modeled on an altar, it offers visitors a quiet space to reflect. Drawing on cultural theorist Sianne Ngai’s notion that things we recognize as cute simultaneously inspire feelings of tenderness and aggression, the altar features items characterized by soft materials, muted tones and pastel colors. By using the aesthetics of cuteness in their* work, Smith comments on how Westernization has historically rendered black, brown, and queer bodies “cute” in order to commodify and consume them—and how it continues to do so.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Joy Mariama Smith (1976, United States) is an installation and movement artist, activist, educator, and architectural designer. They* studied at the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem; the NewSchool of Architecture & Design in San Diego; L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris; and Oberlin College in Ohio. Their work has been performed internationally, including at If I Can’t Dance Edition VI – Event and Duration, Amsterdam; SoLow Festival, Philadelphia; and Ponderosa Movement & Discovery in Stolzenhagen, Germany. Currently, they teach at the School for New Dance Development (SNDO) in Amsterdam.