Narcissister, a Truly Kinky Artist

From Art Journal 79, no. 1 (Spring 2020)

Drawing on the myth of Narcissus and the transgressive perversity it inspires, New York–based performance artist Narcissister embraces narcissism as an aesthetic and political strategy. The artist, whose training includes classical dance and the fine arts, lives in a darkly humorous world that consists of racialized dolls, mannequins, autoerotic sex play, and remarkable yet anticlimactic performances of constructed archetypes. She is known for wearing an expressionless Barbie mask, wigs, and a kinky-haired merkin, all while concealing her “real” identity. Her live and video works feature a mix of titillating yet disturbing displays of penetration and versions of “the pullout method,” which she performs on herself. In her art, edgy self-sex acts commingle with a multiplicity of characters and fictions typically considered taboo—kitschy soft-porn archetypes, topsy-turvy dolls, and mammies—to unsettle liberal ideas concerning multiracialism, feminist praxis, and virtuosity. Her recent art features dolls with crudely assembled body parts à la Hans Bellmer and Cindy Sherman, cut-up masks of various skin tones, dysfunctional and ill-fitting costumes, and oversize props that often thwart the artist’s seamless execution of a choreographed step or cue. Specifically, her art extends formal strategies developed by Lorraine O’Grady, Carolee Schneemann, Adrian Piper, and Kara Walker to transform stereotypical imaginings of the female body and long-standing social and aesthetic debates about the right and wrong ways to picture and perform racial and gender identity.

Narcissister, Red Riding Hood, 2014, mixed media (photograph provided by the artist)

Narcissister’s solo performances contain all the makings of psychosexual disorder, from multiple identities to kinky sex to self-objectification. Formally, she alters conventions of burlesque, African American concert dance, feminist craft (quilt making and collage), and camp (she hand makes her props and costumes from discarded materials). Thematically, she combines the visual histories of black subjugation with sexual transgression to highlight how these two phenomena, enmeshed since the eighteenth century, remain entangled in the early twenty-first century amid renewed interests concerning racial reconciliation and the promise of multiracial feminism.1 In so doing, she challenges the reparative expectations of art, activism, and multiculturalism in the post–civil rights era.2 A self-identified “sister” of African American and Moroccan descent, Narcissister burlesques her own mixed-race heritage to stage self-objectification as the limit of multiracial promise.3

In name, the artist plays with the polysemy of the word “sister,” exercising the language of racial and gender affinity to redefine how we imagine community and solidarity in the early twenty-first century. She combines self-loving absorption with the idea of “sisterhood, especially among women of color.”4 By tethering narcissism to the history and memory of racial subjection, her otherness—her aesthetic and corporeal alterity in terms of phenotype and athleticism—operates on two levels. Narcissister’s onanistic acts of incomplete performance upend normative notions of mastery, on the one hand, and black women’s reproductive labor in the past and present, on the other. Inserting and expelling items from her genitalia is one way the artist plays with these concepts vis-à-vis the boundaries of blackness and the body.

Because of her self-sex radicalism and transgressive deployments of the body in performance, scholars and critics have lauded Narcissister’s artworks as radical acts of redress and self-love. Ariel Osterweis and Barbara Browning consider her performances to be acts of reclamation and self-care that counteract images of black women as degraded subjects.5 Arts and culture critic Priscilla Frank has called the artist a “queer feminist superhero,” while art critic Katie Cercone has likened Narcissister to a postracial feminist icon.6 From these angles, the artist’s creative endeavors recover the racialized, gendered self—restoring the historically subjugated body to some sense of wholeness and strength—through narcissistic sexual play. In my view, Narcissister’s performance art gestures beyond the body to question the limits of racial and gender identification as they have been thought within identity-based art and its histories. The constellation of her background in African American concert dance, her training in black feminist craft and performance, and her participation in exhibitions comprising solely artists of African descent is especially important here, as is her use of masks and various racial and sexual stereotypes typically ascribed to black women’s bodies. Bridging her own complex racial and ethnic heritage with her artistic influences and practice, the artist unsettles narcissism’s sexually perverse origins to focus on how pathologies of race, and specifically blackness, continue to energize our liberal imagination. Her work also underscores the myriad ways in which the visual economy of race and phenotype is also inherently sexual and libidinal.

The myth of Narcissus is the basis for the prevailing analysis of narcissism, which Sigmund Freud characterized in 1914 as a sexual perversion wherein romantic attraction is directed exclusively toward one’s self.7 This self-centering, typically understood as an extreme, pathological form of self-desire, is thought to lead to self-affirmation and reassurance: narcissists love the self-image they project onto others, and when others reflect the projected image back, the narcissist’s sense of self is affirmed. In this exchange, narcissists are reassured both of their existence and of the boundaries of their ego, a reflexive process that blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.

Beginning in the 1970s, narcissism became the nexus of a disparaging form of aesthetic criticism levied at feminist performance artists who used their own bodies in their live and video art. As Lucy Lippard observed at the time: “Men can use beautiful sexy women as neutral objects or surfaces but when women use their own faces and bodies, they are immediately accused of narcissism. . . . Because women are considered sex objects, it is taken for granted that any woman who presents her nude body in public is doing so because she thinks she is beautiful. She is a narcissist, and [Vito] Acconci, with his less romantic image and pimply back, is an artist.”8 Lippard’s comments underscore the uneasy tension between feminism and self-display with which women artists at the time were forced to contend. To counter this tension and the art world’s gender disparities, women artists and their critics claimed performance as well as narcissism as self-affirming sources of creative agency and representation.

For Amelia Jones, narcissism is a radical practice—when enacted by marginalized subjects, namely women artists, queer artists, and artists of color—that breaks down the self-other, mind-body split unique to prevailing conceptions of modern subject formation in the West. These binaries often characterize culture and the mind as masculine, and nature and the body as feminine. Self-centeredness shatters this reductive view; in so doing, Jones explains, it becomes empowering. Rather than eclipsing women artists and the images and subjectivities they create, it elevates them, thereby expanding our understanding of feminism and art’s engagement with social life.9

Just as self-centered performance frustrates the art world’s predominantly white, male, object-driven structures, Narcissister’s art is expansive, crossing the boundaries between entertainment, lowbrow dance, and fine art. “My interest in keeping my project broad and able to exist in many different scenes,” she admitted in a 2014 interview with Joseph Keckler, “is unfortunately quite a liability. The feedback . . . from curators,” she continued, “is that my artwork is too entertainment-flavored to be viable for them, and I don’t have objects to sell. And the entertainment people often feel my work is too arty, too opaque in its meaning and standpoint, and too erotic for many ‘entertainment platforms.’”10 To further explore the possibilities of identity-based art and performance, Narcissister turned to burlesque. While completing the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2004–5, Narcissister found vibrancy in burlesque. However, the burlesque scene was limited to representations of white femininity and womanhood. “They still all basically wanted to be Marilyn Monroe,” the artist remembers.11 She, on the other hand, craved something more versatile to accommodate nonnormative approaches to racial performance and eroticism. So she began disrupting the conventions of burlesque with handstands, reverse stripteases, and her masked dancing body. Narcissister’s live and video works, however, do not build to sexual release or satisfaction, nor do they reveal or redress unknowable truths about sex, or race for that matter; they are essentially plastic and anticlimactic.12

Instead, the ways in which Narcissister flips in and out of costumes, multiracial masks, and abject sexual scenarios congeal into a kind of race play, a form of kinky sex that at once relishes yet exceeds erotic fetishism and fulfillment. Race play is a type of sexual fetish in which participants experience pleasure from re-creating racist and xenophobic situations drawn from history, such as Nazi-Jew interrogations, master-slave relationships, and public displays in which white interlocutors grease up and sell black bodies on the auction block.13 Another dimension of race play is becoming aroused by the use of racist epithets and physical force to demean one’s partner. It is a kind of psychological theater that gains appeal from its associations with any combination of the following: the desire to abandon responsibility, the desire to be humiliated, self-hatred, the impulse to redress childhood trauma, or even to find or mimic spiritual connection. From the point of view of race play, Narcissister’s work complicates staid understandings of blackness and the body in contemporary art and performance studies.

In contemporary art history and performance studies literature, uses of the body such as Narcissister’s are typically read as a way to heal racial pain and injury. This understanding of performance assumes that it “offers a substitute for something else that preexists it,” making the performing body a proxy “for an elusive entity that it is not but that it must vainly aspire both to embody and to replace,” in Joseph R. Roach’s interpretation.14 Performance, therefore, functions as a process of substitution, of standing in for something preexistent, lost, or elusive. In this process, the performing body is an effigy, Robin Bernstein tells us, “as it bears and brings forth collectively remembered, meaningful gestures, and thus surrogates for that which a community has lost.”15

Rather than affirmative self-love or redress, Narcissister’s antiredemptive enactment of self-sex bridges race play with Freud’s pleasure principle, the instinctual search for pleasure and avoidance of pain to satisfy biological and psychological needs.16 Freud locates pleasure and pain on a spectrum, and Narcissister’s self-effacing, abject sex acts are situated at the point where pleasure and pain meet. But her practice of racialized BDSM (shorthand for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) changes the terms of pleasure and pain as they relate to power—domination and submission—and histories of racial and sexual subjection. Narcissister’s race play exceeds any attempt to redress the trauma of racial subjugation in the past and present. Her brand of self-objectification undercuts social mores about sexual agency with enactments of self-inflicted discomfort, stalled orgasms, and bodily harm. In so doing, her art foregrounds a relation between racialized female sexuality and freakery that is distinctly irreverent and kinks up normative ideas about racial kinship and art’s liberatory potential. Moreover, latent within the artist’s race play is a social critique of the art world. The curious thing about race play is that in the broader fetish community, people of color pursue it, but more often than not the consumer base is white, not unlike in the art world.

Thus, instead of using senseless perversion or affirmative enactments of narcissism, Narcissister transmogrifies self-loving absorption by adding a little kink to the mix. She strips, flips upside down, spreads her legs to reveal multiracial doll heads nestled in her crotch, and plays with herself, frenetically rubbing the masks and heads attached to her body and inserting and pulling items from her mouth, vagina, and anus. She moves quickly and gracefully. One blink and you might miss something, like a swift costume change or the climax we might expect from such a titillating display. Furthermore, Narcissister’s conceptions and deployments of racialized stereotypes within and beyond the body contest black female subjectivity in light of her own racial identifications as a “sister”—a woman of color. Kink in this context spans curly wigs and merkins; sociocultural entanglements of race, gender, and sexuality; and crude forms of self-sex. The artist’s cleverly suggestive moniker and kinky enactments of race play and self-objectification, as a result, recalibrate narcissism with regard to how racialized identities function in American public life.

In Every Woman (2008/9), Narcissister’s best-known work, the artist reorders the striptease form by performing it in reverse. At the start of the video version of the piece, red curtains with gold lining and black tassels part to reveal a nude Narcissister facing away from viewers as the camera zooms to compress the frame and focus on the artist’s backside. Behind an eerie Barbie mask that conceals her identity, the artist revolves on a rotating platform similar to the kind circus performers use, making her nude body, brown-toned Barbie face, and kinky-haired merkin visible from all angles. To Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” (1978), she pulls clothing and accessories from her mouth, from between her legs, and from the oversized, kinky Afro wig she wears. Rather than serving as a revealing image of the artist, Narcissister’s masking devices ensure that she is never fully exposed and that she instead presents an artificial construction. We experience the flipside of Chaka Khan’s lyrics, “Anything you want done baby/I do it naturally.”17

Just as Every Woman reverses the norms of burlesque, the work also contests the fictions and fantasies associated with black women’s sexual desires and performance. The Afro wig and pop song function as signifiers that recall the self-objectifying racial fictions of the blaxploitation film genre and racialized pornography of the 1970s and 1980s, the Golden and Silver Eras of erotic film, respectively. During this time, blaxploitation and erotic films trafficked in exaggerated depictions of black women doing “it”—sex and sexuality—both exotically and “naturally,” as Chaka Khan sings. The voluptuous, lustful black woman kicking ass in a huge, weapon-storing Afro and low-cut, impossibly tight clothing is a recognizable and recurring stereotype in the former (Pam Grier as Coffy, in the 1973 film of the same name, for example). In the latter genre, lascivious black women who possess special “skills” and enjoy being racially subjugated in the sex act evince such fantasies. Narcissister’s simulations of self-sex in Every Woman and elsewhere, however, do not lead to self-affirming ecstasy; instead the orgasm is routinely displaced, frustrated, or quite literally fabricated in her work. Rather than mastery, incompletion—of sex, race, and reproduction as well as dance-based virtuosity and fully knowable identities—is the acme of Narcissister’s art, albeit counterintuitively.18 Her choreographed failures to climax, which appear as various forms of reversals and refusals across her practice, overturn early twenty-first-century ideas about identity performance and multiracial futures. Narcissister’s Afro wig and choice of Khan’s late disco tune in Every Woman are particularly important here because they elucidate how kink—from myths about black women’s hair to their sexual prowess—circumscribes black female embodiment in our putatively multiracial era.

Narcissister’s art coincides with but nevertheless refutes current American public discourse that valorizes multiracialism—one of the greatest hopes and myths of the early twenty-first century. Writing on how US news media link multiracial identity to contemporary racial norms, policy preferences, and cultural trends, communication studies scholar Catherine R. Squires observes, “Promoting tolerance and cross-racial intimacy at the dawn of the twenty-first century is much better than the hysteria over race mixing that ushered in the twentieth. . . . That the mainstream press is declaring a consensus that interracial marriage is a social good is no small change.”19 The American public’s embrace of interracial coupling represents a move away from centuries-old angst about race mixing to promote tolerance, affirmative coalitional politics, and celebrations of cross-racial intimacy as social goods. According to Squires, multiracial bodies are now seen as harbingers of racial harmony rather than racial degradation, and this development is “evidence of some progress.”20 These putatively progressive concepts are punctuated by the gains and failures of Barack Obama’s 2006–8 presidential campaign and his 2009–17 occupation of the White House, important years for Narcissister’s artistic development. Yet while representations of hybridity and multiplicity recur throughout her oeuvre, she repeatedly distorts idealized images of the mixed-race figure by performing its shortcomings.

The Dollhouse (2011), also known as Upside Down, exemplifies the artist’s transformations of both narcissism and multiracialism. The Dollhouse has been performed at various lengths and at a variety of venues, from the Box, a neoburlesque nightclub in New York City, to America’s Got Talent, a prime-time television variety show that airs on NBC.21 As a result, Narcissister has garnered a cult following that spans queer club culture, experimental film and performance, television, and the high-art world. At times preceded by a video set to eerie nursery music that features the artist’s hands playing with a topsy-turvy doll in a multilevel wooden dollhouse, the live performance work opens with Narcissister wearing a brown-toned mask, a brown bob-style wig with bangs, and a red sailor dress. She is cloaked in a floor-length blue velvet hooded cape reminiscent of Cinderella, with long white gloves covering her hands and forearms. A large dollhouse prop is positioned upstage and center.

To the lyrics of “At the Crossroads,” a song about a girl coming of age from the 1967 Hollywood musical Doctor Dolittle, Narcissister twirls, raises her gloved hands to the sky, and slowly kneels as if praying. Narcissister’s gestures mirror the lyrics of the song: “Here I stand at the crossroads of life/Childhood behind me/The future to come/And alone/Nothing planned at the crossroads of life.”22 She reaches far to the left and brings her hands to cover her masked eyes, her upper body contracting and releasing in an action that resembles crying. She yearns for something: romantic love and certainty about the future.

Narcissister, The Dollhouse (performance still), 2014, part of the exhibition Future Feminism, the Hole, New York, September 2014 (photograph © Elisa Garcia de la Herta)
Narcissister, The Dollhouse (performance still), 2014, part of the exhibition Future Feminism, the Hole, New York, September 2014 (photograph © Elisa Garcia de la Herta)

Then the music switches to a spare disco interlude, and Narcissister turns to face upstage. She pulls her hood down to reveal another brown-faced mask attached to the back of her head. Her dress also has a dual identity, red with a sailor collar in the front, and a blue and brown paisley print in the back. She bends and disrobes before her two-headed “self” skips and prances across the stage, eventually transitioning into another costume change that takes place while she is upside down. Foreboding music signals that something strange is afoot, and Narcissister delivers on cue as she bows her head to the floor and slowly rises into a headstand, pointing her feet. She pauses and then splits her legs dramatically to reveal a brown dress and a third head—white with a black bob and bangs—popping up between her thighs. Her legs are now arms and her white knee-high stockings are now gloves. She spirals her torso, places her feet behind the doll head, and contracts her torso front and side. To stand, Narcissister rolls out of a backbend, thrusts her pelvis to the audience, plays with her third “self,” and jumps up into a series of quick hip rolls.

The score changes to “Upside Down,” Diana Ross’s 1980 pop disco hit about a woman’s disorienting, self-effacing experience of romantic love, and Narcissister performs a dizzying sequence of acrobatic choreography.23 She flips in and out of handstands, strips topless, and turns to face the audience. Suddenly aware of her exposure, she covers her bare chest with her skirt as the music changes to a synth version of “At the Crossroads.” She scurries upstage and kneels as “Just the Two of Us” (1980), a more promising love song than “Upside Down,” blasts through the speakers.24 Her feet walk up the dollhouse prop, and she is once again in a handstand, this time with her back facing the audience. Her skirt tumbles to the floor to reveal a black and gold embroidered dress and yet another white mask erect between her legs. Flipped upside down and inside out, she is now a two-sided, four-headed, topsy-turvy doll, a toy made popular in the United States during the antebellum and postbellum periods.

Thought to have originated as an act of resistance and a product of black female slave labor in the antebellum South, the topsy-turvy doll became a symbol of miscegenation. It simultaneously emblematized racial fusion, cross-racial intimacy, racial hierarchy, and sexual violence.25 The two halves share a waist and a skirt, and when the doll is flipped, either the white or black end is visible, a playful act of appearance and disappearance that Narcissister deploys in The Dollhouse. These actions contain within them the idea of racial flip-flops, the promise or threat of total racial transformation—white to black and vice versa—at the expense of racial concealment. As Robin Bernstein explains, “If one side of the topsy-turvy doll is exposed, the other side lurks, waiting, beneath the skirts.”26 Though the flip of the skirt invites play, “The thing determines that [the doll’s black and white] poles never interact, and that one character always obliterates the other,” making racial union both contingent yet impossible—a kinky entanglement.27

Against this backdrop, Narcissister’s The Dollhouse bridges interracial desire with popular American film, music, and material culture. Her embodied version of the topsy-turvy doll ultimately refuses racial integration, keeping the masks adjacent yet separate and apart. In so doing she joins the failure to achieve self-realization through sexual ecstasy with racialized imperatives to biologically reproduce. Her body and movements not only highlight how coupling and futurity energize the American racial imaginary in the post–civil rights era; they also challenge the myth of happy “coexistence” in a society where racial others are inexorably dominated, enslaved, and violated. Narcissister’s mixed-race, sexual, dancing body is the doll—the thing—that prevents the two poles and four faces from coming together. There is no racial harmony here, and it is on and through her body that racial union, or miscegenation, is foiled.

With The Dollhouse, Narcissister crudely choreographs fantasies of miscegenation in order to thwart them, and her refutation of cross-racial intimacy is made clear in the piece’s final minutes. The artist climbs on top of the dollhouse and proceeds to strip down to a sexy black singlet. Standing, she contorts her body, bending forward and backward to allow the faces on each end and side of her to alternately gaze at each other. Her hands caress her many doll heads, and she throws back her actual head to register momentary pleasure. The unsuccessful union of the paired faces on Narcissister’s front and back, however, attenuates this moment. They are stuck in intimate contact but separated by the artist’s body, a fraught yet fixed estrangement that prevents them from realizing the physical embrace, or self-affirming climax, for which they long.

The end sequence caricatures the mythos of self-love and self-discovery that organizes prevailing visions of postracial, postfeminist futures, a facet of the artist’s performance that typically eludes her critics. In Katie Cercone’s review of The Dollhouse, Narcissister “is the integrated self. . . . She is swiveling, wheeling; a beguiling icon of a raceless, genderless, classless future feminism to come.”28 This assessment echoes the reparative undercurrents of civil rights and feminist discourse, which Cercone extends to a postracial, postgender, postclass future. But Narcissister’s autoeroticism defies this logic. While she is temporarily excited by the myriad options available to her, the frenetic costume changes, acrobatics, vaudevillian trickery, and multiracial dummy faces do not culminate in anything resembling integration, racial utopia, or a satisfying sexual union. Neither she nor the desires of her plastic, multiracial doppelgängers, personified by the lyrics “Just the two of us/We can make it if we try,” are fulfilled.29 She also brings to life the historically disturbing topsy-turvy doll, demonstrating its current symbolic relevance.

In animating the two-headed doll and flipping between racial poles, Narcissister disorders our sense of what is real and what is not in terms of pleasure and the body’s racially and sexually expressive potential. This act of subversion also satirizes twenty-first-century sensibilities regarding multiracial figures as evidence of national progress. From these vantage points, The Dollhouse eschews common understandings of multiracialism, which uphold heterosex and romantic intimacy as sites where racial conflict, even estrangement, can be suspended or dissolved.30 In Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism, critical theorist Jared Sexton explains how multiracialism and normative sexuality structure contemporary social relations.31 Despite being heralded as the post–civil rights answer to racial strife, multiracialism, according to Sexton, reinforces anti-black sentiment and sexual norms by evoking long-standing tenets of each while purporting to do away with them. Those who promote multiracialism as a cornerstone of progressive social change misrecognize the violent legacies of slavery and its afterlives to which race mixing is tethered, namely the sexual violence endured by slaves at the hands of slave owners. Historically, in the US context, offspring from interracial sexual reproduction assume the lower status of the black, typically maternal, parent. Hypodescent—the automatic assignment of racial status—is the basis of the one-drop rule (“one drop” of black blood), a social and legal principle that evolved during the nineteenth century and was codified into law in the twentieth. Racial classification based on blood quantum gave rise to phenomena such as racial passing, racial purity, and moral panic over maintaining that purity in the antebellum and postbellum periods.

While we no longer live in a time when interracial marriage is illegal, or when tropes of mixed-race identity such as the tragic mulatto circulate widely, Narcissister’s topsy-turvy performance illustrates that anxieties concerning racial authenticity persist in the present.32 Most importantly, her use of multiple masks that visualize varying phenotypes highlights the uncertain promise of postracial integration. From life-size dolls to doppelgängers and embodying every woman, the artist overturns early twenty-first-century aspirations for racial and sexual transcendence as culturally compensatory exercises. The artist’s chosen props—dolls, masks, and double identities—further evince the undoing of a post-identity future through engaging Freud’s theories of the “double” and the uncanny.33

Narcissister’s mobilization of the double and the uncanny puts race and gender at the center of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories by generating feelings of revulsion in response to things and notions of identity that are familiar, but slightly off. Additionally, doppelgängers in Western art and its histories have represented the divided self, allowing artists to explore myriad personas and express experiences of otherness and crisis.34 Alternatively, dollhouses, dolls, and the gendered play they inspire are signs for human development and futurity. For Freud, the uncanny’s mixture of the familiar and the eerie confronts subjects with their own unconscious, repressed impulses.35 Dolls, specifically, he explains, are imbued with living qualities, and as children, we treat dolls as if they are alive. Through interactions with such objects, children receive information about social relations and cultural norms concerning adulthood and domestic life. Narcissister upsets this progressive arc and assumptions about the ends of racial mixing and sex by reproducing not children, but rather kitsch and multiracial plastic masks that do not find themselves in blissful union. Furthermore, Narcissister’s self-objectification—performing as a masked dancing doll that both mirrors and animates the props and effigies she employs—troubles the boundary between black and white, person and thing, as well as the line between pleasure and pain.36 In so doing, she refigures normative conceptions of identity, objecthood, and ultimately humanness by transposing narcissism from self-loving absorption to self-objectification.

Narcissister’s 2015 evening of live and video performance titled “Conditions of the White Mask” expands the scope of race play on offer in The Dollhouse. Included in Just Like a Woman, a festival copresented by the Abrons Arts Center in New York on October 24, 2015, “Conditions of the White Mask” circles back to the doll as an object of terror, racial intimacy, and pleasure. But rather than an outright refusal of cross-racial intimacy, “Conditions of the White Mask” sets in motion an intimate relation between whiteness and blackness that Ariane Cruz argues is vital to racialized women’s enactments of BDSM and erotic fantasy.37

Narcissister, Baby Lady (performance still), 2016, part of “Live Art Live,” organized by Amelia Jones, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, January 2016 (photograph by the artist)

Baby Lady (Forever Young), the first of the evening’s live works, opens with Narcissister hiding under a suitcase that is dressed as a bassinet. The bassinet holds a white baby doll. Set to Alphaville’s “Forever Young” (1984), Baby Lady depicts the phases of (white) womanhood from birth to death.38 Narcissister scuttles out from under the bassinet on her knees, cloaked in black and wearing a white Barbie mask. A blond, toddler-size girl doll in a white lace dress is attached to her face. Abruptly, Narcissister stands, turns, and pulls the doll down for a quick change. A bigger doll with crimped curls is fastened to her back, which now faces the audience. Next, she is an older version of the doll, wearing pigtails and a pink dress bloodstained in the back. Between character changes, she inserts dance moves—an arabesque turn, a chassé—gracefully transitioning from one phase of womanhood to the next. She plays softball in overalls. She marches down an imaginary aisle, first in a black graduation gown, then in a pink wedding dress and veil. “Next comes baby and the baby carriage,” as the saying goes, and this is where things get kinky.

She strips to breastfeed, and after placing the doll back in its buggy, she pushes it away and pulls two gray, braided pigtails from her anus. The gray pigtails replace the blonde ones as she slips into a different pink dress, circles the stage, and stops to “birth” a wrinkled mask from her vagina, which she fastens to her already masked face. She is now an elderly white woman, dropping her pigtail sideburns for the wrinkled face. To finish, she crawls back under the suitcase and reveals its contents to the audience—her gray-haired doppelgänger in a satinlined coffin—before resetting the suitcase to the bassinet.

Baby Lady’s depiction of the developmental phases of white womanhood sets the stage for the complementary set of works about sex, race, reproduction, and romantic love that follow. In each piece, Narcissister’s body subverts conventional narratives associated with human development and cross-racial intimacy. The first video of the evening, Man/Woman (2009), stars a frustrated white fanboy. “Photograph,” Def Leppard’s 1983 pop-metal rock ballad, plays in the background.39 It is a song about a sex symbol akin to Marilyn Monroe who is just out of reach and whose visage is reproduced in pictures. Throughout, still and moving images of Marilyn Monroe, “the blonde bombshell,” populate the song’s music video. But Monroe is not the fanboy’s fantasy in Man/Woman. In his cramped, cluttered bedroom, the fanboy flips through Black Tail, an adult fetish magazine specializing in photographs of black women’s backsides. On his already porncovered wall he hangs a centerfold poster of his chosen piece: a curly blonde Narcissister in a dark-brown mask with matching breasts.

The white fanboy caresses the image of Narcissister and excitedly pulls out his Johnson to stroke and pleasure himself. In the act, he discovers a dark layer of skin and long pink nails underneath his own white “skin.” Then the live Narcissister emerges, turning out the props meant to signify the white fanboy’s person from the inside and arranging his clothing, hair, face, and chest on the bed. Wearing the mask, wig, and breasts from the poster along with a white strap-on over a pink G-string, the “real” Narcissister wildly rides the fanboy’s remnants—dildo and all—to no avail. His parts do not hold up under her rigorous grinding; they literally fall apart, thus failing to satisfy her. Feigning disappointment, in silence she discovers her image in two facing pages of Black Tail and masturbates using the fanboy’s now detached, silicone member, climaxing and leaving him behind.

Narcissister, Man/Woman, 2007, mixed media (photograph by Tony Stamolis)

In the next video, 18 Heads, Narcissister is a double-headed Marie Antoinette searching for her perfect complement. She tries on multiple heads that run the gamut from a green monster mask to the head of a woman carrying a basket of fruit on her head. Following the fate of the infamous queen of France, those that do not fit her standards are guillotined. Finally, Narcissister finds the perfect mate to complete her: a matching Marie Antoinette head of a slightly darker hue.

In the final piece of the evening, Unforgettable, the artist dances in a tuxedo to Nat King Cole’s eponymous ballad before stripping down to black lingerie.40 Next, she stages what appears to be a romantic tale of boy-meets-girl using two pale-colored puppets; the male is dressed in a top hat and tuxedo jacket, the female in a silver blouse. Unlike in a traditional puppet show, where puppeteers’ arms bring characters to life among fabricated sets and curtains, Narcissister lies on her back and uses her legs and feet as the puppets’ base. In so doing, she transforms her scantily clad body and black-lace-covered legs into a table where the puppets dine and admire one another to the sounds of Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.”41 To create a romantic atmosphere, the artist inserts a long-stem candle into her vagina. Other props such as fake wine glasses, a cake, and a smokeless sparkler candle complete the festive scene. In the end, the puppets smooch and embrace.

Taken together, the various events of “Conditions of the White Mask” reveal a great deal about the mores of contemporary identity discourse, womanhood, and cross-racial intimacy. They expose not only the sexual dimensions of race but also how multiracialism is imbued with heteronormative pronouncements such as love, romance, family, marriage, and reproductive futurity. “Conceptions of the multiracial cannot help but imply a production of race in the field of heterosexuality, nominating, more specifically, the reproductive sex act as the principal site of mediation for racial difference itself,” Jared Sexton explains.42 As a result, the fruits of amalgamation become part of a reformist schema in which the future multiracial child is recruited to recuperate a traumatic past marked by unique forms of racial terror and to pave the way for a racially transcendent future.

By contrast, Narcissister burlesques her own mixed-race heritage as well as public debates concerning the biopolitics of interracial intimacy and its transformative potential when, instead of babies, she pulls a wrinkled mask from her vagina and synthetic braids from her anus in Baby Lady. As Narcissister alternately assumes an identity as a table, as a candle stand, as sparkling entertainment for the doting puppets, and as a sex freak for the audience in Unforgettable, selfobjectification is the limit of multiracial promise for Narcissister. Thus, rather than “a deployment of sexual difference through which the seeming transgression of race mixing is resolved, first into the ‘romantic complexity’ of courtship and marriage, and then into the reproductive futurity of the ‘mixed-race’ child,” as Tavia Nyong’o observes, Narcissister performs reproduction without futurity.43

Furthermore, “Conditions of the White Mask” deepens the artist’s conceptual engagement with feminist art’s contemporary currency by transmuting the expectations of the racialized virtuosic body explored in earlier works to embodied ambivalence toward both multiracialism and white womanhood. Instead of an imagined community of boundary-crossing hybrids who redeem the trauma of black subjugation in the past, present, and future, Narcissister’s performances against multiracial possibility result “in a representational space that is both black and, in a specific sense, negative,” as Nyong’o puts it.44 This black, negative space “cannot spell out a set of instructions on how to conduct ourselves in the present, but can only instruct against the presumption that its stories lie at the ready to be told.”45 To this end, Narcissister’s nonprocreative sex play short-circuits the rationales of both multiracial exceptionalism and the promotion of packaged family values vis-à-vis domestic coupling, two-parent households, and the nuclear family unit. This reveals two things: one is the true aspiration of multiracialism, which is the singularity of blackness as a social identity, a political organizing principle, and an object of desire, to paraphrase Sexton. The other is a refusal of the social and aesthetic norms concerning what is appropriate when it comes to racial representation and sex in the twenty-first century.46

Finally, Narcissister’s refusal to reveal her “real” identity, her use of parody and pastiche, and her performances of crude, anticlimactic sex transform egoloving self-absorption into something else altogether. In the story of Narcissus, the mythological antihero searches for a worthy object of desire, refusing all who court him. To Narcissus, his suitors fall short of his expectations, including Echo, who, cursed by Zeus’s wife Hera, is unable to speak her love for the ill-fated hunter. When she reveals her identity and attempts to embrace him, Narcissus rejects her, and she fades away, only her voice remaining.47 Eventually, Narcissus “finds himself” when Nemesis lures him to gaze into a pool of water in a secluded, dark meadow. In his reflection he discovers the love object for which he has been longing: himself. Transfixed by his own image, Narcissus stares at his reflection until he realizes his love can never be reciprocated, whereupon he commits suicide.

Though arrogance and vanity ring true of narcissism, misrecognition, not mere self-loving absorption, leads Narcissus to choose himself as a love object. In endeavoring to consummate his joining of himself to his love-image, he forgets himself entirely, foregoes relations with others, and ends his life. In so doing, Narcissus eschews culturally determined forms of sociality by forestalling a self-affirming future conventionally secured through romantic love, coupling, and procreation. This antirelational thrust and short-circuiting of social norms are at the heart of Narcissister’s performance practice. But the artist’s irreverence propels narcissism and the concept of antirelationality into new territory.

Unlike Narcissus, the center of the artist’s affected narcissism is not a beautiful, white, male figure around which much of the literature on antirelationality has been organized. In queer theory, antirelationality emerges from queer, white, cis-masculine critiques of heteronormative injunctions that center on the child, whereby biological reproduction determines and evidences our output and social potential.48 That is, our productivity is linked to our reproductive capacities, and political possibility is tied to building better futures for our children. For Lee Edelman, author of No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, the logic of “reproductive futurism” presupposes three things. It suggests: first, that the future has “unquestioned value and purpose”; second, that we can improve it; and, third, that the future is emblematized by the child.49 As such, reproductive futurism renders unthinkable all alternatives to kinship and solidarity.

Critical race- and performance-studies scholars such as Amber Jamilla Musser, Roderick A. Ferguson, Tavia Nyong’o, and José Esteban Muñoz have found fault with this line of thinking, arguing that queerness is neither counter to hope nor solely the domain of white cis men. For these authors, racialized subjects, and black subjects in particular, are always already against or outside the norm. Because of these social conditions, minoritarian subjects cannot afford to turn away from the political possibility of communal world making. In this schema, queerness engenders utopian forms of being and belonging in the present that produce, according to Muñoz, “a type of affective excess that presents the enabling force of a forward-dawning futurity.”50 Minoritarian subjects, in other words, not only need hope and alternative configurations of futurity; they forge these conditions in order to persist and thrive under and against oppressive forces.

Narcissister reconfigures narcissism’s associations with homoerotic desire and feminist navel-gazing and redirects the white male origins of antirelationality. Her art also moves beyond the need for hope and futurity into a world where dissociation and disaffection are preconditions of black female embodiment and being. The artist’s self-identification and kinky performances of race, gender, and sex make this provocative and necessary shift more complex. Neither her creative labors nor her brand of self-objectifying narcissism can be extricated from her ambivalent racial identification because they are both circumscribed and complicated by multiracialism’s problems and pitfalls. Narcissister’s donning of multiple selves, then, is more than mere performance meant to redress racial and gender wounding. Her performances draw our attention to the pornotropic fields—of vision and theory—that constrain her body and her artistic practice. The artist’s nonprocreative sex play upends prevailing ideas about our present and future by demonstrating how racialized bodies continue to function as ciphers for social and sexual relations. Her work foregrounds how a sexual act is always inevitably fraught with race and that self-objectification can constitute self-love and cross-racial intimacy, sometimes necessarily so. She is, to put it simply, a truly kinky artist.

Tiffany E. Barber is a scholar, curator, and critic of twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual art, new media, and performance. Her work focuses on artists of the black diaspora working in the United States and the broader Atlantic world. She has published widely on African American art, fashion, dance, and technology. Barber is assistant professor of Africana studies at the University of Delaware.

  1. “Despite the importance of late-nineteenth-century medical and legal discourses, which founded theories of sexual perversion and punitive consequences,” writes Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, “racial slavery provided the background—and the testing ground—for the emergence and articulation of {theories of sexual perversion}.” Abdur-Rahman, Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 27. She further elaborates on this history and its permutations in African American literature from slave narratives to early twenty-first-century fiction and visual culture.
  2. For an account of how these intersecting topics inform contemporary art and feminist performance practices, see Cherise Smith, Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). Smith argues that by drawing on conventions such as passing, blackface, minstrelsy, cross-dressing, and drag, Antin, Lee, Piper, and Smith highlight the constructedness and fluidity of identity. Ultimately, for Cherise Smith, performance offers a type of self-fulfillment for these four women artists.
  3. “{The name Narcissister} refers to that fact I’m a ‘sister,’” she told Joseph Keckler in a 2014 interview. Narcissister quoted in Keckler, “The Real Face of Narcissister: A Conversation with the Woman behind the Mask,” Vice, September 17, 2014. Narcissister was born to an African American father and a Jewish mother who grew up in Morocco. Her mother’s Jewish ancestry is Sephardic, an ethnic division with roots in precolonial Spain, Portugal, and Northern Africa.
  4. Narcissister quoted in ibid.
  5. See Ariel Osterweis, “Public Pubic: Narcissister’s Performance of Race, Disavowal, and Aspiration,” TDR: The Drama Review 59, no. 4 (Winter 2015): 115; and Barbara Browning and Ariel Osterweis, “Dancing Social,” Theatre Survey 53, no. 2 (September 2012): 270.
  6. See Priscilla Frank, “Narcissister Is the Topless Feminist Superhero New York Needs (NSFW),” Huffington Post, June 27, 2014; and Katie Cercone, “Lorraine O’Grady & Narcissister Do Future Feminism at the Hole,” Posture, September 30, 2014.
  7. Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 2nd ed. (1998; Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2004), 415–17. Freud’s essay was originally published in 1914 under the title Zur Einführung des Narzißmus.
  8. Lucy Lippard, “The Pains and Pleasures of Rebirth: European and American Women’s Body Art” (1976), in Feminism-Art-Theory: An Anthology, 1968–2014, ed. Hilary Robinson, 2nd ed. (2001; Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 341.
  9. See Amelia Jones, “The ‘Eternal Return’: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment,” Signs 27, no. 4 (Summer 2002): 947–78. See also Jones, Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject (London: Routledge, 2006), which introduces the concept of parafeminism. Jones argues that feminism at the turn of the twenty-first century is undergoing revision. It is no longer tied to debates concerning essentialism and antiessentialism that characterized feminism’s first and second waves. More importantly, parafeminism revives feminism, making it relevant beyond prescriptive bad-girl behavior and white middle-class theories of identity.
  10. Narcissister quoted in Keckler, “Real Face.” Many performance artists have found themselves in the uneasy space Narcissister outlines. For more on how performance stymies the art world, see the following recent scholarship situated between art history and performance studies: Rebecca Schneider, The Explicit Body in Performance (London: Routledge, 1997); Valerie Cassel Oliver et al., eds., Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, exh. cat. (Houston: Contemporary Art Museum Houston, 2013); Jennifer Doyle, Hold It against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Leticia Alvarado, Abject Performances: Aesthetic Strategies in Latino Cultural Production (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018); and Lara Shalson, Performing Endurance: Art and Life since 1960 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
  11. Narcissister quoted in Tim Murphy, “The Mannequin Also Speaks: Up Close with Narcissister,” New York Times, January 16, 2013.
  12. This phrasing follows Thomas Waugh’s analysis of classic American stag films, where he claims they fail to make visible “the unknowable ‘truth’ of sex.” Waugh, “Homosociality in the Classical American Stag Film: Off-Screen, On-Screen,” in Porn Studies, ed. Linda Williams (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 128.
  13. For scholarly and popular literature on race play and the BDSM scenarios it entails, see Isaac Julien, “Confessions of a Snow Queen: Notes on the Making of The Attendant,” Critical Quarterly 36, no. 1 (March 1994): 120–26; Daisy Hernandez, “Playing with Race,” Colorlines, December 21, 2004; and Chauncey DeVega, “Race, Sex, and BDSM: On ‘Plantation Retreats’ Where Black People Go to Serve Their White ‘Masters,’” Daily Kos, August 14, 2012. Both Hernandez and DeVega reference the particular scenarios I list: Nazi-Jew interrogations and various master-slave dynamics and reenactments.
  14. Joseph R. Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 3. Writing on Narcissister in the context of contemporary artists of color working in identity-based performance and body art, Cesar Garcia argues that the artist presents “bodies that urge, desire, pleasure, expose, consume, and indulge, and excrete, bodies that through the act of performance reclaim their agency while simultaneously liberating themselves from confining visual paradigms.” Garcia, “Eroticized Corporealities,” in Fore, ed. Thomas Lax et al., exh. cat. (New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 2012), 70.
  15. Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 23.
  16. Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis; Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id, and Other Works, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1985).
  17. “I’m Every Woman,” track 1 on Chaka Khan, Chaka, Warner Brothers Records, 1978.
  18. Here I borrow Ariel Osterweis’s term, “incomplete performance,” which she uses to describe Narcissister’s active disavowal of dance-based virtuosity. For Osterweis, contrary to a complete denial, Narcissister’s work results in a striving toward excellence. “The focus shifts,” she argues, “from virtuosity to aspiration: instead of fulfilling a sustained aesthetic of virtuosity, Narcissister stages through partial embodiment and incomplete performance no more than a striving toward excellence” (Osterweis, “Public Pubic,” 112). For my purposes, rather than the seamless attainment of an ideal body, or the perfect, masterful execution of choreography and climaxes, I consider Narcissister’s photography, videos, and live performances to be portrayals of crude, abject, and unfinished scenes and actions that fail to reach desirable ends.
  19. Catherine R. Squires, Dispatches from the Color Line: The Press and Multiracial America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 180.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Narcissister’s first performance of The Dollhouse aired on America’s Got Talent on June 28, 2011. The artist performed The Dollhouse at the Box in January 2017.
  22. Leslie Bricusse, “At the Crossroads,” track A5 on Doctor Dolittle Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 20th Century Fox Records, 1967.
  23. “Upside Down,” track 1 on Diana Ross, Diana, Motown Records, 1980.
  24. Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers, “Just the Two of Us,” track 5 on Grover Washington Jr., Winelight, Elektra Records, 1980.
  25. A topsy-turvy doll is a soft, two-headed object in which a young white girl is fused with either a Topsy, after the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin of 1852, or a black mammy. Historically, topsy-turvy dolls existed before Stowe’s character Topsy. But after the novel’s publication, the doll was often called “Topsy-Eva,” further establishing in the US public imaginary the pickaninny, a stereotypical representation of black children as blacker than black, unkempt, and primitive. Pickaninny imagery—bulging eyes, big red lips, broken dialect—is rooted in blackface minstrelsy, and pictures of Topsy in American visual and material culture illustrate these tropes. Her blackness (she is “one of the blackest of her race—odd and goblin-like”), her ugliness, her filthiness, her insensate nature, and her inability to know her age and parentage are contrary to Eva, who represents childhood innocence. Devoid of sociable instincts until Eva’s touch transforms her into a being capable of feeling, Topsy is essentially antisocial, an attribute of undesirability brought to bear in Narcissister’s solo performance. “One of the blackest of her race—odd and goblin-like” is the caption for James Daugherty’s full-page illustration of Topsy in Stowe’s novel. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1929), 229. Special thanks to Tammy Owens for this language and reference. Incidentally, Narcissister performs the mammy figure in The Basket, a video work of 2012. She also performs as an Eastern European peasant and scantily clad video vixen, among other stereotypes in this video, again demonstrating her interest in image scavenging, multicultural archives, and the black female sexual body.
  26. Bernstein, Racial Innocence, 174.
  27. Ibid., 87.
  28. Cercone, “Lorraine O’Grady & Narcissister.” Lorraine O’Grady’s performance art and writings are a point of departure for Narcissister. O’Grady’s influential text “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” critiqued sexual and racial hierarchy in the West to institute a shift toward winning back the position of the black female as a questioning subject with agency, in the art world and society at large. The opening section of the text was first published as an illustrated essay in Afterimage 20, no. 1 (Summer 1992): 14–15. The revised version, including an added postscript, originally appeared in New Feminist Criticism: Art, Identity, Action, ed. Joanna Frueh, Cassandra L. Langer, and Arlene Raven (New York: Icon, 1994), 152–70. The essay has subsequently been reprinted in Art, Activism, and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage, ed. Grant Kester (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 268–86; and The Feminism and Visual Cultural Reader, ed. Amelia Jones (London: Routledge, 2003), 174–87.
  29. Washington, Jr. and Withers, “Just the Two of Us.”
  30. For a thorough study of this phenomenon within a performance-studies context, see Tavia Nyong’o, The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
  31. Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
  32. The tragic mulatto is a mixed-race person assumed to be sad, or even suicidal, because they fail to completely fit in a racially divided world. The archetype, a trope abolitionists used to cultivate sentimentality and empathy in white readers in an effort to represent slaves as more human, emerged as a fictional character in American literature during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In novels of the era, the character often meets an untimely end because there is no place in American society for one who is neither completely “black” nor “white.”
  33. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” (1919), in Literary Theory, 418–30. See also Freud, “The ‘Uncanny,’” trans. Alix Strachey, in Collected Papers (London: International Psycho-analytical Press, 1924–25), 4: 368–407.
  34. For an expanded discussion on this history, see Chris Hassold, “The Double and Doubling in Modern and Postmodern Art,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 6, no. 2/3 (1994): 253–74.
  35. Freud’s theory, though central to critical racestudies scholarship like that of Robin Bernstein and Amber Musser, neglects race and racial difference, which is why I rely on Bernstein in my explication of Narcissister’s racialized doll personae.
  36. Here, I follow Sianne Ngai’s account of animatedness. For more on animatedness and the racial epistemology of liveliness, see Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).
  37. As Ariane Cruz notes, “Race is marginalized in both the scholarly literature and popular media about BDSM, contributing to the impression that it is not something black people do, or should do, and/or that race is not a salient factor in the power dynamics essential to the practice.” Cruz, The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 10. See also ibid., 4.
  38. “Forever Young,” track 6 on Alphaville, Forever Young, Warner Elektra Atlantic Records, 1984.
  39. “Photograph,” track 2 on Def Leppard, Pyromania, Mercury Records, 1983.
  40. “Unforgettable,” track 1 on Nat King Cole, Unforgettable, Capitol Records, 1952.
  41. “Birthday Cake,” track 6 on Rihanna, Talk That Talk, Def Jam Recordings, 2011.
  42. Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes, 7.
  43. Nyong’o, Amalgamation Waltz, 175.
  44. Ibid., 165.
  45. Ibid.
  46. For a consideration of race, sex, and performance along these lines, see Oliver et al., Radical Presence; and “Reading and Feeling after Scenes of Subjection,” ed. Sampada Aranke and Nikolas Oscar Sparks, special issue, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist theory 27, no. 1 (2017).
  47. In the past twenty years, much has been written about the psychoanalytic theory of narcissism and how it fails to account for Echo’s radical difference. See Tania Modleski, “Feminism and the Power of Interpretation: Some Critical Readings,” in Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, ed. Teresa de Lauretis (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1986), 121–38. The figure of Echo poses ethical questions crucial for deconstructing canonical texts and disciplinary scripts, a project central to Narcissister’s practice. Indeed, Echo is traditionally marginalized in analyses of the myth of Narcissus; and given the namesake of the artist discussed in this essay, I too neglect Echo in order to tease out the disorderly, racialized, and antirelational aspects of her performance.
  48. Many thanks to “Reader 2” for the language and initial prompt to elucidate this point.
  49. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 4.
  50. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 23. See also Amber Jamilla Musser, Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (New York: New York University Press, 2018); Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); and Tavia Nyong’o, Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (New York: New York University Press, 2018).