Our People, Our Queen

Today’s guest blogger is 2012 de Young Artist Fellow Monique Jenkinson (aka Fauxnique). During her yearlong fellowship, she is focusing on the Museums’ costume and textiles collection, particularly the work of Jean Paul Gaultier as represented in the special exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (on view at the de Young through August 19). This Friday Night at the de Young, April 27, Jenkinson presents Making Scenes, a curated evening that includes a new dance/installation piece entitled Our People, inspired by the work of Gaultier—his icons, his fetishes and his light-hearted, humanistic irreverence. Here she shares with us the creative process behind the making of Our People.

Monique for Our People

Monique in costume for Our People. Photo courtesy of Arturo Cosenza

When I set out to produce the Friday Nights at the de Young experience—both curating the evening and creating a performance—I knew it would draw on the work of Jean Paul Gaultier, but I did not know that it would lead into such a process of inquiry.

I am struck by Gaultier's interest in difference—of shape, size, age, color and culture—which he celebrates in an irreverent but generous way. Playing with costume, including counter- and queer-cultural costume, he creates a collage weaving together layers of meaning and provocation. One of his favorite phrases is ‘Why not?’ which (to me) speaks to a spirit of inclusion.


Jean Paul Gaulter. Collection Hommage à l'Ukraine et la Russie, Tribute to Russia and Ukraine collection Haute couture, Automne-hiver 2005-2006 / Fall-Winter 2005-2006

In response, I have attempted to make a performance collage acknowledging and celebrating difference instead of color blindness.

To start out, I gathered together a group of people–people I like, people I wanted to get to know better, people from different places and people that are different from me. I chose them for their skill, but also because of who they are (and I have been very blessed to have them come together for this process).

As the project developed, I remembered something my ballet teacher exclaimed during class once: as praise, she said, “Ah yes, that’s it! It is the dance of our people.” That became the title and the premise for making the work. It is also my contribution to Bay Area Dance Week, a major project of our organizational partner Dancers’ Group.

At the outset, I asked, “What is the dance of your people?” Together, we came up with a host of answers, source material, questions and problems associated with that initial inquiry:

Who are my people?
Do they have a dance?
What if they don’t have a dance?
What if I feel alienated from my people?
Who are my people?

We went further, asking: What are the tensions and commonalities between our given and chosen people, families, tribes and scenes? How do we proclaim, hide, contrast and combine our cultural experiences and histories through self-presentation? How do we make it up?

Slovakian Headdress

Slovakian wedding costume. wedinator.com

One friend reacted to the beginnings of Our People saying, “Ooooh, girl, It’s a Small World After All! United Colors of Benetton!” And I thought, “Noooo! Not clichéd togetherness!”

But then I thought, “Why not?”

I can’t deny the formative power of It’s a Small World or [the ad campaign sponsored by the clothing company] Bennetton. When I look at them both with the critical eye of my 1990s education in identity and difference, it’s easy to be cynical; but when I look deeper, I have to credit them with shaping my politics. (And deeper still, I realize that the similarities between the Gaultier exhibition and the Disneyland ride are uncanny.)

I called the evening Making Scenes, which has multiple meanings. Of course, if you put a bunch of dramatic types in a room together, drama might ensue. To make a scene is also to upset the status quo. But I am also really interested in the making part. How do we create our worlds? Sometimes a scene—perceived pejoratively, or as something shallow—can become a tribe or a family—perceived positively, with more substance.

This resonates especially with Waiyde Palmer’s lecture Schooling the Children: It Came from Club Häagen-Dazs, which examines the history of queer club culture in San Francisco. What started out as a bunch of kids literally making a scene in their workplace gave birth to nightclubs that many queer folk would call home and refer to as church. This community creation is one of the main tenets of our organizational partner CounterPULSE.

When I started really going to clubs, relatively late in life, I experienced a vital culture shock. Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of a group of all kinds of folks who were irreverent, smart, powerful and free. This culture seemed to value the project of looking at questions about diversity and difference from all angles, without trying to smooth all them out.

Singular Sensation

Monique at Club Singular Sensation. © 2010 by Robert Guzman

This is also Gaultier’s world.

JPG Runway mashup

From Left to Right: La Mariée, Cages collection, Haute couture, Automne-hiver 2008-2009 /Fall-Winter 2008-2008; Movie Stars (or Cinema) collection, Haute couture, Automne-hiver 2009-2010 / Fall-Winter 2009-2010; Collection Barbès, Prêt-à-porter Femme, Automne-hiver 1984-1985 / Fall-Winter 1984-1985

From my former vantage point of early 90s politics, it is easy to find much of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work problematic. The truth is, I still do. And I love it.

Join us TONIGHT for a special evening curated by de Young Artist Fellow Monique Jenkinson (aka Fauxnique), presented with Dancers' Group and CounterPULSE, and inspired by The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

Programs in Wilsey Court and the Piazzoni Murals Room are free and begin at 5:30 p.m. Gallery admission is required for the portion of Our People that takes place in Gallery 26.