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Erica Ando

Zanele Muholi, Bester V(Mayotte archipelago), 2015. Courtesy Stevenson Gallery

Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami
June 16–August 14, 2016

Intersectionality—a theory of discrimination—takes into account life as it’ s lived, a complex overlapping of multiple social identities. While identity politics of the ‘ 80s and ‘ 90s demarcated along strict lines—say, by gender, class, race, or ability—intersectionality, championed by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, layers divisions to account for experiences marginalized by traditional discourses of oppression. Current activist groups like Black Lives Matter embrace intersectional theory to include women, poor people, undocumented immigrants, queer and transgender people, and so on—groups traditionally unacknowledged in the name of the greater good. In an era of white male rage, agonizingly exemplified by “Trumpism” and police shootings of black people, intersectional theory is not only relevant, but also urgently necessary.

Organized by guest curator Richard Haden, Intersectionality draws on these ideas and features more than sixty artists, the majority of whom are from South Florida. In the spirit of intersectionality, the sprawling exhibition displays a multiplicity of voices and strategies. It provides a space for discussing how identity can be messy, for allowing art to protest, affirm and humanize, and for contending that artists can be agents of change.


Installation view: Intersectionality, Museum of Contemporary Art Miami. Photo: Richard Haden

Confronting identity in our age of self-curation, the exhibition presents it as mutable, unglamorous, and expressed through the body. Societal expectations, as Kerry Phillips shows, precariously hold up notions of femaleness. Disease can undermine women’ s bodies, but not eradicate them, Sarah MK Moody asserts. Cooper Lee Bombardier shares the pain and loss experienced from gender confirmation surgery. Mariette Pathy Allen documents transgender people in Cuba, contesting socially acceptable images of the rich, white, conservative, American counterpart, Caitlyn Jenner. Carol Jazzar traces the process of her identity’ s dissolution and consequent re-creation. Through the absence of bodies, Anja Marais expresses the dehumanizing shifts in identity experienced by refugees. In addition, overt nods to feminist art of the late ‘ 60s and early ‘ 70s––through the use of handcrafts or fabric as a medium––show that new ways to speak about new subjects rely on the past for guidance.

The exhibition suffers, unfortunately, several hours a week. During the hours MOCA hosts a children’ s summer camp, video projections are turned off for fear that images of nude bodies will offend. Several of the videos—by Jillian Mayer, Cat Del Buono, and Cristine Brache—parse social and mass media’ s role in the malleability of identity today. Also invisible for most of the week are photo projections by Zanele Muholi, who makes black queerness visible through her self-portraits and portrayals of black lesbians in her native South Africa.

The final piece of the exhibition, by Heather Cassils, shows the pain of oppressive gender binaries experienced by trans people—both internally and through violence inflicted on them. A gender nonconforming trans masculine bodybuilder, the artist rejects surgery and synthetic hormones, using diet and training to sculpt a muscular physique. Cassils’s sound work, presented in a darkened room by itself, comes from a 2013 performance in which the artist pummeled and kicked a 2,000-pound block of clay in the dark. Cassils’ s grunts and punches resound throughout the exhibition, implicating us in the violence, while affirming, as we anticipate the next blow, the hard-won self.