A crime of identity, Artist Lizania Cruz at Alma|Lewis

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • Took some time to understand
  • Important and meaningful

My first impression of Performing Inquiry, The Alma|Lewis Gallery’s latest exhibit was confusion. I thought I was trying to understand a crime scene from the perspective of learning about how governments were investigating people and taking away rights. I was confused by the display of migration patterns into The Dominican Republic. I was confused by the family trees on display. I was confused by the video of artist Lizania Cruz interviewing a man in The Dominican Republic about his name and simple history.

What was the crime here?

There were evidence bags. There was an electronic interview for jury selection. There were suspect and witness pictures hanging on the wall.

How did these relate to the family trees? How did these relate to the video interview, which didn’t ever ask, “whodunnit?”

It didn’t hold together. The cohesiveness wasn’t there.

There was no crime.

The second time I walked into the exhibit, I was alone. There was no crowd. No artist to chat with, to try to distill the essence of the exhibit from.

I reviewed the exhibit, flowing around the room, clockwise — not sure if that was the intent. I reviewed the map of migration. I reviewed the family trees. I reviewed the video. I reviewed the bags of evidence. I reviewed the suspects and the witnesses. I reviewed the 18 ways in which Dominicans differentiate themselves by combinations of color an ethnicity.

I reviewed some of the selected literature, sitting on a shelf in the exhibit space.

There is no crime here. Erasing someone’s identity is not illegal.

I feel uncomfortable just writing that.

There is no crime here. Erasing someone’s identity is not illegal.

I imagine having my identity stripped away. A new identity is gifted to me. I’m adrift in understanding who I am. None of my choices make sense anymore. The new identity is not a gift, it is control. My own opportunity as a human to frame my own narrative is taken away.

For how legal erasing someone’s identity may be, it is unjust and repugnant, passive violence.

Part of the exhibit is a set of literary works placed on the wall. In the selected essay, “Venus in Two Acts,” Saidiya Hartman writes about how a slave ship captain was put on trial for the murder of a slave girl. The girl’s name was mentioned once and only once. Yet, the trial is about the value of her life. The negative space left in the court transcript leads Hartman to imagine her, forgotten, at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Hartman wants to write a historical fiction about the girl, yet can’t. She believes there is more meaning in leaving the girl’s identity tragically lost, than in providing a fictional one.

Lizania Cruz’ work is brimming with meaning around identity. Through her interviews and her research she is working to document the sense of identity of the people of the Samana peninsula in The Dominican Republic, beyond their relationship to black & white. This identity was lost, stolen, crushed, rewritten, and sometimes simply forgotten due to trauma.

It was so worth my extra time to revisit Alma|Lewis and work through my confusion.


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