The cyborg polymath’s been trawling weird Yahoo! Groups at 3am and reflecting on racism she experienced growing up in America’s south for her next performance
There’s a lot we can learn from the former legal assistant turned poet, artist and DJ. Juliana Huxtable is a prominent LGBT activist in New York, challenging the boundaries of gender and sexuality in both the public and art spheres. The cyborg princess has walked and modelled for DKNY, Eckhaus Latta and Chromat, and collaborated with Hood by Air to produce a stellar show soundtrack. Now she’s performing this weekend at Step and Repeat in LA, bringing a show amongst the interracial desires and fantasies of cyber fetish communities. So ahead of Huxtable's show at MoCA, here are some things you absolutely need to know.
SHE WAS INSPIRED BY YAHOO! FESTISH GROUPS AND ONLINE EROTICA
“I ended up finding myself doing 3am hops around the Internet in weird porn genres and Yahoo! groups. I envisioned it as research but it brought back a lot of questions from childhood. These communities are where people volunteer in role-play to reenact racially loaded situations like the Antebellum and the old south. At first, I was really appalled by what I saw, but then I was interested in the curiosity for something so taboo. I created fake profiles to totally immerse myself. The text is about understanding that space for particular people. Scenes from movies like Monster’s Ball (2002) or 12 Years a Slave (2013) are interesting spaces for desire.
People write entire erotic novels online on HTML caches, centred around really loaded historic, racial encounters. This guy called Neal writes erotic fiction that I found really problematic, but enjoyed. He’s a white man writing novels like Shanika at the Plantation Club, which was one that stuck to me, about recreating plantations. It’s a bondage, sado-masochist race-play experience.
When I got to the Yahoo! group – they’re called things like ‘Slave N***a’ and ‘Plantation USA’ – there was this guy who was a black Dominican man of African descent, which is interesting because of the racial tension between Haiti and the Dominican republic. He’s always frustrated because when he goes to gay bars men see his dark skinned body and see him as an aggressor, reducing him to a role he doesn’t want to be as he wants to be on the bottom. Race-play, which I have experienced, is a lot more nuanced and complicated. I am so fascinated by it."
HER PERFORMANCE CENTRES ON INTERRACIAL FANTASY IN ONLINE MICRO CULTURES
“It’s about interracial desire. This started from me growing up in the south, where sometimes I was the only black person in my classes. Growing up in a really intensely racist and segregated area, with a really painful past that hasn’t been dealt with, I tried to interrogate my own desires in my work. It’s about having that moment and attraction for other cultural affinities and revisiting it later on, through my exploration of online culture.”
THE POLITICAL UNREST IN AMERICA MAKES HER PERFORMANCE AS RELEVANT AS EVER
“It’s an opportunity to show some of my best work, and I think the racial climate in America right now is really hard. America has a lot of history that’s sad and decimating. The community are in conversation with that history. I’m interested in how this kind of oppression and violence relates to the body.
Political issues usually come out in a way where I inject those things with surrealism and metaphors, which is more fluid. My work is intense, and tows the line with race. I think the text will be powerful, broken up with sound and film I’ve created.”
HYPER-SEXUALITY MADE HER SELF-AWARE
“Coco Fusco (Cuban-American artist) is a big inspiration for me. And the way Sarah Walker (American artist) deals with race, history and desire is really intense. It also feeds off of my own experience. My inspiration was very immediate. My interest in erotica started because I was always aware of sexuality even as a child. I was super interested in all of the magazines, or erotic art. Erotica is a cultural artefact. It generated a hypersexual person, which got me in a lot of trouble as a child.”
THE RACIAL PREJUDICES OF THE NORTH AND SOUTH ARE DIFFERENT, BUT EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT
“Growing up in the south, you romanticise the northeast. New York is obviously more cosmopolitan; my life is far richer in ways I wouldn’t have had where I was growing up. However, I was shocked when I came here that my sense of racial frustration and identity didn’t go away. The segregation in New York is a different type of segregation. It’s still dense. The majority of the race-play community that actually meet up are based in the northeast. In the south it would be different because it’s so explicit visually.
It arouses this void and taboo space that exists in the northeast, where desires need tended to. It’s kind of like how a lot of women writing about BDSM culture identify with humiliation-play. For some women, it’s liberating to create a controlled situation of what’s conspiring around you all of the time but aren’t being spoken about. It’s therapeutic.”