Rights of Passage
October 11, 1997
The Johannesburg Biennale
Johannesburg, South Africa
Coco Fusco's Rights of Passage, is a site-specific performance about race, space, and power in the post-apartheid era. Fusco suggests South Africa’s “past” is currently managed via romantic commodification, and that "this packaging of Blackness, whether it be constructed as a precolonial African identity for tourists, a folkloric preservation of non-hybridized tradition, or a sanitized version of township life, is one of the many socio-cultural mechanisms of repression that characterize con temporary post-apartheid culture."
The Rights of Passage passbooks serve as evidence of payment for entry to the Biennale, an artist’s “multiple”, and a document of the performance. The “passbook” is a souvenir, a reminder of a critical moment in history of demarcation of space in South Africa, of our ambivalent attraction to and repulsion from that past, and of its immanent commodification.
Ultimately, the piece is a comment on contemporary cultural tourism, and the new status of “peripherally” situated biennials as marketplaces for all sort of exotica. Even the most horrifying historical circumstances can function as a point of attraction, and ultimately, a lure for global capital investment.