Think about N’gugi Wa Thiong’o’s assertion that the invisible is often made visible through performance. Using specific examples from the film Couple In A Cage, reflect upon one or two theatrical elements that Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco employ to show how colonialism, as a system of domination, depends on performance to sustain it.
Couple in A Cage shows how art can challenge assumptions and reveal people’s true selves in a matter of seconds. Both Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña’s use of traditional indigenous symbols alongside modern ones and the role of the “guards” help to illuminate the performance aspects of colonialism.
Firstly, the use of traditional symbols mixed with modern ones. Fusco and Gomez-Peña dressed in traditional indigenous outfits, but with modern additions. Both actors wore modern shoes (Fusco wore Converse, a recognizable brand, and Gomez-Peña’s shoes were nondescript, though modern) and sunglasses. Fusco also wore a modern baseball cap sideways, which also served the purpose of disguising her wig. And much of the spectacle surrounding the actors was due to the juxtaposition of two people in “barbarian” outfits–headdresses, grass skirts, chest plates, shell beads, and animal skins–interacting with items from a “civilized” world: table settings, a television, and a boombox. This interaction produced a performance of modern activities with pre-modern people, an entertaining sight for many of the patrons. It felt as if the modern symbols cheapened the traditional ones, to the point where the audience felt comfortable observing, reacting, and dehumanizing the people wearing them.
But more importantly, having the two “guards” beside the cage really enforced the point of Fusco and Gomez-Peña’s piece. As the liaison between the “Guatinauis” and the “civilized” audience, they set the tone for the types of interactions the audience felt were appropriate. Most likely, if the guards were not present, the audience would not feel comfortable with the piece. But since people of assumed authority acted normal, so did the patrons. In fact, the guards’ enthusiasm for the whole event led many attendees to question whether the guards were the artists behind the project, rather than Fusco and Gomez-Peña. This trust and deference to the guards makes Gomez-Peña and Fusco’s final image much more striking: when the Guatinauis lead the guards away on chains, the power relations are reversed. The audience is left in confusion, causing them to question the performance, the performers, and the nature of their interactions with it.