Renee Cox, Yo Mama’s Last Supper, 1996 (Click the image)
I’ve shown Renee Cox before when I posted the Hottentot Venus 2000. This is another of her works that she’s famous for. It shows her in the position of Christ, flanked by 12 black men acting as the apostles from Da Vinci’s famous painting.
This is a direct response to how there are no depictions of people of color in classical masterpieces. Cox, with a third wave feminist’s perspective, attempts to make history more inclusive.
Renee Cox and Lyle Ashton Harris, Hottentot Venus 2000, from the series The Good Life, 1994
This photograph is a reference to the “Hottentot Venus” from the 19th century (the image below). The image below was a caricature of Sarah Baartman, a woman from South Africa who was one of the most famous colonial exhibits (It makes me shudder to speak about someone in those terms - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Baartman ). During the 19th century, colonized peoples were brought to Europe and put on display in museums and theatres. These people were meant to serve as educational exhibits for cross-cultural examination, when in reality they just served to justify a racial hierarchy. The people put on display were divorced from their contexts and staged in a certain way; their “otherness” was put on as a performance, they were people exaggerated.
The Hottentot Venus in particular displayed cultural differences and “otherness” on the body itself. In the 19th century, black women were seen by Europeans as hypersexualized (and the next century saw them asexualized in the Mammy figure). This hypersexualized vision fit the jezebel stereotype, an insatiable sexual appetite.
The piece by Cox and Ashton Harris shows that her so-called hypersexualized parts are staged, and you see her own body beneath the fake body parts. But at the same time, it recalls that her body is always seen as working in this set of representations and cultural stereotypes than came before. Even today, negotiating the colonialist history and discourse is needed; we have a superficial way of integrating diversity.
As mentioned below, these are two depictions of “Mammy” figures in film. To reiterate what I said about the Carrie Mae Weems piece, these figures were depicted as heavy-set, matronly, jovial and completely asexual. They were there to heighten the sex appeal of the white protagonist. bell hooks cites that the oppositional gaze is active in its critique of these stereotypical representations on screen.