“I’ve Been Performing My Whole Life”
The conclusion serves both as a summation of the book’s arguments and an extension of its recurring trio—objecthood, black performance, and avatar production—into the twenty-first century. Mimicking the architecture of the chapters, the conclusion ends Embodied Avatars with yet another unlikely historical pair: pop and hip-hop dynamo Nicki Minaj and sculptor Simone Leigh. It zeroes in on Minaj’s canny manipulation of her voice in her zesty cameo on Kanye West’s single “Monster”; her thrilling scream in that song recalls Heth’s earlier outburst, and the women’s shared wielding of grotesque aesthetics. Building off of Kobena Mercer’s scholarship, the conclusion restages and develops this term through Minaj’s artifice-laced performance in the music video accompaniment to West’s single, a particularly fraught piece that was swiftly banned upon its release. This discussion is followed with a turn to Leigh’s video art opus Breakdown, in which an archetypal black woman (performed by opera singer Alicia Hall-Moran) performs a stunning mental breakdown. The conclusion dissects this artwork’s avatar-play via its skilled execution of failure, its suggestion of the roles diasporic black women perform for the duration of their lives. This provocative pair, bridging high art and popular culture, is enhanced through brief appearances by other contemporary subjects (and their avatars)—including visual and performance artist Narcissister, digital creation Kismet Nuñez, and musician Janelle Monáe.
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