Protest in Pride
- A performance installation by Mary Coble.
For four days in May, during the 2014 Gothenburg lgbtq-festival, visual artist Mary Coble will be raising a collection of clenched fists as signs of resistance. Coble has collected an archive of fist symbols used in various kinds of political protest, demands for equal rights and by different sub-cultures and minority groups. A selection of the symbols has then been appropriated into homemade banners. These are reflective of demonstration banners, but here they are hanging in the windows of the exhibition space, visible from the street where the pride march will take place. Stressing that the lgbtq-festival in its origin is based on fights of courageous activists and that this final event of the festival is not just a parade of visibility but a march for solidarity, Coble wishes to make room for the raised fists in the streets of Gothenburg. During the days leading up to the march, she invites festival participants as well as other passers-by to come to the exhibition space and make prints of their own clenched fist. The prints will be united onto larger flags, which the artist will continuously hoist on the flagpole situated on the main street outside the library housing the exhibition. Furthermore a print of each fist will be made into a smaller individual flags, and an exchange between artist and participant can take place: While Coble offers you a small banner with your own fist, she will ask you to carry it while walking in the pride march. By encouraging the participants to raise their fists during the lgbtq festival, the piece calls for solidarity and empowerment to the marginalized and oppressed, and Coble visualises the statement that Queer rights are human rights!
While it is important to celebrate queer pride and progress for lgbtq rights, Mary Coble’s piece insists on making room for resistance to the normative mainstreaming and the dominating political and social culture, when it produces discrimination, exclusion and repression. The raised fist has been an iconic marker of minorities’ fights against oppression – minorities of not only sexual orientation but also gender, race, class and ethnicity. As Tommie Smith writes about the infamous gesture of raising his fist on the victory platform at the Olympic Games 1968: “On the night of October 16, 1968, I had stood on a platform on the infield of the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, with a gold medal around my neck, black socks on my feet, and a glove on the right fist I had thrust in the air. My head was bowed, and inside that bowed head, I prayed— prayed that the next sound I would hear, in the middle of the Star Spangled Banner, would not be a gunshot, and prayed that the next thing I felt would not be the darkness of sudden death. I knew there were people, a lot of people, who wanted to kill me for what I was doing. It would take only one of them to put a bullet through me, from somewhere in the crowd of some 100,000, to end my life because I had dared to make my presence—as a black man, as a representative of oppressed people all over America, as a spokesman for the ambitious goals of the Olympic Project for Human Rights— known to the world.” [i] Smith calls this his ‘silent gesture’ but it spurred a long-time political roar with immense effects for the civil rights movement but also with excruciating costs to his personal life.
Another example of one of the most influential raised fist icons is the feminist sign of a clenched fist inside the biological female symbol – most often drawn in the color red. Robin Morgan designed it on the occasion of a demonstration against the Miss America Pageant in 1969. This powerful symbol united the marks of fierce revolution and femininity – but Morgan worried that the color would be too feminine. As Jo Freeman, activist in the US women’s liberation movement since the 60’s notes: “Initially, Robin Morgan worried over the choice of a red button for this particular demonstration. Ever conscious that major corporations like to co-opt incipient protest movements, she imagined that the cosmetic firm sponsoring the pageant might respond by manufacturing a matching lipstick named "Liberation Red." Therefore, if we were asked about the button, we were instructed to reply that the color was "Menstrual Red." No one would name a lipstick that.”[ii]. Concerns like this are still highly relevant today with the commercialisation of lgtbq events and the commodification of ‘gay life’ and related symbols such as the rainbow.
The raised fist indicates that a pride march is initially a social, activist movement that claims space for a community and creates visibility to the otherwise unnoticed. This publication celebrates this fact with a collection of fist symbols from the 1960s to today accompanied by two specially written essays: Lincoln Cushing provides a historical overview of the clenched fist symbol, and Mathias Danbolt offers a queer political argument for raising our fists today. Finally, a short, reprinted text by Hadassah Damien describes how queer sexual politics and sexual practice intersect in the symbol of the clenched hand. As we march for human rights we need to remember everybody in social struggle – including the ones who do not have the privilege of being able to publicly raise their fist in protest.
[i] Tommie Smith, Delois Smith, David Steele, Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith (Temple University Press, 2008).
[ii] Jo Freeman, “Say It With Buttons” Ms. magazine, August 1974. Quoted from: http://www.jofreeman.com/buttons/saybuttons.htm
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