Peter Tatchell Wing
POLITICS AS PERFORMANCE
The Art of Making a Scene
Making a Scene, Edited by Henry Rogers & David Burrows, ARTicle Press Birmingham in association with the IKON gallery, 31 December 2000, £12.
Further information: + 44 (0) 121 331 5970
MAKING A SCENE explores the interface between literary theory, performance art, cultural criticism and political activism.
The anthology includes chapters by critics, philosophers and activists from the US and Britain, including Gilane Tawadros, Henry Rogers, Coco Fusco, Jonathan Katz, Amelia Jones, and Peter Tatchell.
In his contribution to Making A Scene, Peter Tatchell theorises the direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! as "the art of activism", where the creative style and symbolism of protest are used to amplify and empower the political content and message:
Excerpt from the chapter, The Art of Activism: Protest As Performance, by Peter Tatchell:
"The direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! are an example of a unique political genre - "protest as performance". Our juxtaposition of political themes and cultural forms borrows ideas from performance art to promote an explicit human rights message. This "art of activism" campaigning seeks to profile lesbian and gay emancipation in a way that is both educative and entertaining. Much of OutRage!'s direct action is also challenging and confrontational, claiming for the queer community public spaces and agendas that have been hitherto off-limits. Our bid for justice often involves intruding - usually uninvited! - into previously all-heterosexual domains where we stage symbolic spectacles that question the orthodoxy and presumptions of straight morality and culture.
This OutRage! activism has included, among other things, taking over solemn state ceremonies and appropriating sacred symbols of national consciousness, such as Remembrance Sunday at the national war memorial, the Cenotaph. Our annual alternative Queer Remembrance Day ceremony occupies - both physically and spiritually - a place of national identity and significance. It projects onto the geographic space of the Cenotaph, and into the emotional space of the commemoration of the war dead, a subversive queer message......
By celebrating Queer Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph we are performing an act of subversive political symbolism in a hallowed place of national importance that has been previously forbidden to queers. This claiming of a state memorial and ritual for a queer agenda challenges invisibility and censorship, promoting public awareness and debate about a marginalised element of queer history and suffering.
Queer Remembrance Day illustrates the way OutRage! transcends a purely legalistic approach to homosexual liberation. Unlike the mainstream, respectable wing of lesbian and gay rights campaigning, which tends to be co-opted into the confines of parliamentary politics and law reform, OutRage!'s model of direct action is foremost about raising consciousness and transforming cultural attitudes and values concerning queer issues. We are seeking to simultaneously revolutionise ethics, opinions, laws and institutions, in order to change fundamentally the way society thinks and acts about homosexuality. Moreover, we are not merely trying to change the way straight society perceives queers; we are also attempting to change the way the lesbian and gay community perceives itself.....
For queers on the receiving end of bigotry, the label of "victim" can be profoundly disempowering and dispiriting. That is why OutRage! tries - through its militant direct action tactics - to undermine the notion of gays-as-victims. In its place, we seek to create a new queer consciousness of pride, defiance and resistance, where fags and dykes maintain a sceptical, discerning attitude towards straight culture and refuse to conform to the dictates of heterosexual society.
A precondition for the self-respect and self-empowerment of queers is overturning the psychologically disabling victim mentality that has been foisted upon us by straight society, and which many homosexuals have themselves embraced in a bid for public sympathy.
OutRage!'s feisty, sassy brand of political activism is an explicit rejection of the cowering, defeatist, long-suffering image of victimhood. Our confrontational protests, where we dare to challenge even the most powerful homophobes, are about making the mental and political transition from victim to victor; creating a new, strong, uplifting identity of queers fighting back and overcoming oppression".
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