By Lydia Platón Lázaro
How did Caribbean rituals helped shape new currents within the appearing and visible arts of the USA? This publication solutions this query via an exam of the Caribbean-inspired dance creations of dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham and the experimental movies of avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren.
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Extra info for Defiant Itineraries: Caribbean Paradigms in American Dance and Film
Min-Ha states about the border between ethnographic film and anthropology, “To raise the question of representing the ‘Other’ is therefore to reopen endlessly the fundamental issue of science and art; documentary and fiction; universal and personal; objectivity and subjectivity; masculine and feminine; outsider and insider” (133). The combination of artistic practice and formal writing challenges how these disciplines were conceived between the 1930s and 1950s. As will be shown in this study, Dunham and Deren can be credited for yet another transformation in altering the power structure of the representation of Others by becoming outsider-insiders in the complex semantics of Haitian Vodou.
Haiti was just coming to the end of three decades of military occupation by the United States, and Haitians were engaged in an impassioned revaluation of their cultural forms. This provided the ideal field for what was to take place between Katherine Dunham and her Haitian counterparts in anthropology, literature, and dance. In the case of Maya Deren, that reappraisal is best reflected in her theories of the artistic within the ritual practices and beliefs of Vodou. From an artistic point of view, the works of Dunham and Deren bring to light inherent qualities of performances as they exist and were practiced in the particular circumstances of the Caribbean of the 1930s and 1940s.
They are scholar-artists or vice versa, a practice that already questions the boundaries of the disciplines and discourses that enclose them. As diverse “traditions” come together in the art-making process and become something new, the investment of self and the dialectic behind “racialized representations” (Hall, “Spectacle”) can be altered. This inverts the usual roles of observers and participants, while also adding a dimension of reinvention and transformation to the art forms themselves. As performance critic Rebecca Schneider explains, “Michel Foucault made evident the way in which power and knowledge are inherently discursive formations and the ways in which discursive formations are events, with impacts on bodies in time and space.