The Fetish Box, Part Three: What Remains

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There is a child in the lower right corner of the image, embraced by a completely covered figure, in stark contrast to the nude woman in the foreground. Another covered figure sits next to her, with only minimal indications of her eyes, nose, and fingers behind the heavy white textiles. The covered woman, who is seated more frontally, is holding the nude child in such a way that its genitals remain under her own clothes. The covered figures and the child appear next to the sitting figure of a black woman, who is neither covered completely nor unveiled but depicted with her face and hands visible.

The textile wrapped around her body is of a different quality and color, additionally separating her from the other sitting figures.

I would like to assume that this child is a male child, given the fact that girls were raised much more secluded from public view in the nineteenth century in most parts of the world. This is an important assumption, since in this case it could make the male child appear as a counterpart to the masculinity of the slave trader.

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In trying to escape the physical control of those covered figures, the child might even be understood as the helpless version of a dominant adult male subjectivity. The relations of aggression and fear that are depicted in inverted scenes within the painting belong together. The Slave Market is also implicitly a depiction of an exploration of unknown territory—the sphere of sexuality that is explored by the slave trader. The testing of sexual limits turns to an exploration of the geographical space of the colony.

The interior space of the body, which is out of the reach of the gaze, becomes a target for visual exploration. The ambivalent character of the fetish destabilizes the seemingly stable relations of the image and makes the colonial situation open for reappropriation.

Mrs B's Books: The Fetish Box, Part Three: What Remains (The Fetsih Box 3) - Nicole Camden

Upon first glance, The Slave Market could be interpreted as depicting the sexuality of a single person who wants to remain undetected, but this seemingly concealed position is inevitably open for everyone who wants to step into the costume of the slave trader and identify with him. The social mask provided by the textiles suggests a masculine identity of the time, and yet it remains vague and unclear. The painting is thus not made by a powerful white male painter, but by an insecure subject who desperately wants to grow up and establish his personal fantasies of control without communication, negotiation, or consensual agreement hiding underneath the covers.

What we see in The Slave Market is not only a double figure of childish and adult masculinity, but a whole scenario exposing several fears and desires. Rather, he contributed to the creation of a structural sexual scenario in which the places of the Middle Eastern slave and the black slave had to be allocated in a way that made them manageable from the point of view of white Western masculinity.

Both the Middle Eastern and the black slave are women, indicating that the concept of enslavement is a gendered issue. Both women stay carefully placed next to each other as if no relation whatsoever could exist between them—no sociality, no interaction, but most importantly, no sexual relation.

Painted in , only twelve years after The Slave Market , In the Loge is the outcome of a self-empowered female gaze. A woman sitting in a loge, or private theater box, looks through a looking glass, probably towards the stage. We see her profile. Almost hidden, this body is obviously twisting to look at the woman in the loge and maybe also at us, as another audience.

The figure intervenes subtly in the scene, presenting just a hint of danger for both the woman in the loge and us. It could easily be overlooked. In the Loge depicts a similar colonial paranoia as The Slave Market , but without the literal figures of colonial subjugation. Colonial relations have vanished from the scene. They are rendered invisible. Here, we are sitting in the public space of a theater; the slave market is somewhere else.

In this space only adult subjects are allowed and nothing is present that would indicate childhood or even youth. This is a space outside the relations of domestic functionality, because the emancipated adult woman can appear in the public realm only in the absence of children, but also without any attributes of her own girlhood. This is even more striking when considering that Cassatt was a painter who depicted many women with children typically in domestic spaces.

She made a clear distinction between images of motherhood and public scenes like this one. It is not unimportant to mention that the person from whose perspective we see the woman in the painting is Cassatt, the painter.

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She is the one looking at another woman, who is sitting next to her in the same loge. Cassatt, however, is not part of the scene, and the suggested female point of view is thus hidden somewhere beyond the limitations of the frame. One could ask, what is their relation to each other, or to other women?

There are two white women in close proximity to each other, but again, there are no visible relations between white and black women, as if the separation of private and public were reserved for white women only. After the abolition of slavery in the US, which was outlawed in Europe already, the early politics of segregation secured selective participation in social structures for black people. Throughout the twentieth century, representation has been a main instrument of emancipation towards global democracy.

However, the democratic state has maintained its moments of paranoia—or maybe it was built upon paranoid beliefs and the fear of losing control and power. Without attempting to define the present-day status of democratic representation, I want to focus on this persisting paranoia and look at its contemporary forms. The term is used to describe girls who grow up as boys in Afghan society and play the role of sons for their families for a limited amount of time before puberty.

Bacha posh have been much discussed and visualized in Western media. In images online, they are mostly shown alone, filling the center of the photograph, but surrounded by other girls in feminine outfits. The landscape is usually the Afghan desert or the destroyed city of Kabul. Certainly, bacha posh have existed independently of the Western gaze for a long time, but they have made their way into mainstream channels of information distribution only recently.


More than anything else, bacha posh images have quickly turned into a phenomenon produced by an growing body of reports in newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian , documentaries on TV channels such as Arte, and Google images, but also older magazines like National Geographic. The images are usually placed inside a discursive vocabulary of war; a lot is said about oppression and resistance, about the enslavement of women, about the lack of democracy, development, and freedom, and about the effort to survive.

Quotes from interviewed family members are usually provided, in which they explain their need for a son in a society that endangers women. But in these reports, there is rarely a contextualization of the global politics of war and the way Afghanistan has been affected by it. Reminiscent of the orientalist inclination to produce knowledge about the East, the proliferation of bacha posh imagery online is a very contemporary example of a paranoid fixation: the child is framed as an enslaved woman, according to the assumption that there is potentially an enslaved woman inside the child.

What is new is the appearance of a gender-ambiguous child in the environment of war. It is as if the transformation of little girls into boys is a logical bodily reference to the political problem the West has with a country that was never officially a colony, that was part of the non-aligned movement before the Soviet invasion in , and that has kept its political status ambivalent for decades. Every time Afghanistan has managed not to side with geopolitical powers but sustain its independence, it has been regarded with suspicion from outside. The punishment that comes along with this refusal has been forty years of persistent war and poverty.

This specific historical time turns into an image beyond history, a timeless zone of war. The images of bacha posh seem to facilitate the adherence to gender structures in this warzone, and as such they are also made for an internal identification: to force subjects to understand themselves as outside the historical, as outside the norm of progress and development.

The circulating images of bacha posh implicitly ask for a reinstatement of essentialist gender as a placeholder for the global order of heteronormative reproductive capitalism homonormative reproduction is out of sight in this context. In this understanding, a girl dressed as a boy indicates just another perversion in a perverted society unable to find its way out of terrorism.

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The observers are obsessed with testing the limits of gender and sexuality: Is this a girl or a boy? Is this a gay child? Is this what a gay child looks like in Afghanistan? Or is this a child that will be gay once it grows up? However, the narratives of bacha posh inevitably replace threat with empowerment. Girls dressed as boys appear in the media as solutions for societies that supposedly enslave and lock up women in their homes. But this is only possible because there is an additional process of interpretation included: what was dismissed as a disguise of individuals in segregated societies in the past women living as men in patriarchal societies turns visible within a recently established discourse of sexuality.

What has rendered bacha posh readable for the Western eye are various practices and cultures of drag, but also queer and transgender forms of living. Moreover I do not think that it is possible to get away from theorising- we can do so in a more or less academic fashion, certainly, but contra-Mark Fisher, I think we must consider that even the simplest of reviews contain theoretical positions, of a sort. Even the notion that this debate which we are having now is a kind of over-abstraction and that we should all head down to Forward and actually get raving, is itself a theoretical position!

The Hardcore Continuum is real, but only as a theory. In other words the theory exists and has certain effects- how it influences other forms of production, how it adds to our own experiences of music. It is certainly related to a reality external to itself a set of musics, clubs, people but its role is not passive, but active. The act of naming is not a naturalistic or scientific act of description, but a creative act itself, an invention, not a discovery.

It puts the set of musics it collects under its name into a particular configuration, and if we buy into the theory, alters our way of perceiving them. We can indeed still take umbrage at what the Hardcore Continuum does, since though it acclaims innovation on the one hand, perversely its canonisation of the past may well act to inhibit future developments.

By codifying the history of these musics and attempting to think them within a grandiose system which now stretches back at least 15 years, there is a kind of drag-effect upon the abilities of future artists and theorists no doubt to continue the very arrow of futurism it claims to represent.

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If the Continuum theory has an effect, it might not be entirely positive! But naming, whether it is of the Hardcore Continuum, of a genre or of a single track, certainly creates a powerful context which shifts the nature of the thing being described.

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We might consider that in the formative stage of generic development in dance music, DJs play records in relation to a certain defined body of dancers to select certain tropes over others, largely to please but sometimes to challenge the particular tastes of the crowd. In the early days of hip hop, for example, before the genre existed in a pre-defined way, DJs would select music from a variety of genres, playing the tastiest breaks from rock and roll, soul, funk, disco, and even Kraftwerk.

This serves to project a kind of constellation of points, between which a genre coalesces. Later dedicated producers come to write music to specifically occupy this defined space, to join the dots between the early cross-genre records. What naming does in all this is to crystallise this loose constellation of sounds, to literally define and enact the genre, to mark the point when it becomes something more than merely an assemblage of pre-existing sounds. In some ways, naming is a gamble or a wager, a bet on the fact that this rough configuration will come to be a genre. I now want to talk about Wonky, as a paradigmatic example of naming as a creative process of intervention.

It was named by Martin Clark aka Blackdown in his April Pitchfork column, and like Funky, is an adjective appropriated to serve something close to the role of a noun. In these senses Wonky is postulated as something more than an adjective, a feel, a vague descriptor, but unlike funky something looser than a solid or coherently demarcated genre-noun.