In 2008, I began a series of “walking tours” to take up questions of outsider status or foreignness. In these projects, I wear “surgical” masks crafted from camouflage fabrics and take walks in unfamiliar locations outside of the United States.
To date, I have performed walks in Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Laos, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tibet, and Uruguay. The walk on the Great Wall in China is the most recent of the series, performed in 2014.
Fabric masks, which I originally saw in Vietnam being worn by people on mopeds and motorbikes, are dysfunctional barriers, as the fabric provides neither medical nor environmental protection. Arguably, they are more effective as signifiers, which leave open the question of whether the mask is meant to protect the wearer from the environment or the environment from the wearer.
As I began the project, I was personally curious about how one chooses to figure one’s own identity as a visual representative of a group that may have been historically aligned with colonization, but other important themes in the work, especially as I have walked in Europe and North America, are (im)migration and (dis)location.
I use camouflage fabrics to draw attention to the (im)possibility and/or the (un)desirability of blending in with a dominant culture. But as I have performed the work in different countries, the referents of the masks have changed, influenced by both context (guerillas in Colombia) and timing (SARS in Argentina).
If a companion is available, the walks are documented photographically. You can find the images at http://www.lbclark.net/
After each walk, I try to embroider one mask with the (often pejorative) term for (white) foreigners, words like angrez, baraig, bule, farang, gaigin, gringo, gweilo, haole, mzungo, obruni.
Laurie Beth Clark was raised in Brooklyn NY. She earned degrees in Art from Hampshire College (BA 1976), University of New Mexico (MA 1981), and Rutgers University (MFA 1982). She has made large-scale, site-specific installations, solo and collaborative performances, and virtual environments. She has also published essays in print and electronic journals and in anthologies. Her work was early featured in venues including Franklin Furnace and Randolph Street Gallery. She has done more than 150 performances in 35 countries on five continents. Her work has been recognized with funding from the Art Matters, Arts Midwest, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Wisconsin Arts Board. Clark has lectured in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Germany, Ghana, Britain, Indonesia, Korea, Holland, and Portugal. The recurring themes in Clark’s work are gender and ethnicity, justice and memory, the nexus of employment and unemployment, and the persistence of material culture into the electronic era.