“Feeling like a woman, looking like a man, sounding like a no-no”: Grace Jones and the performance of Strange in the Post-Soul Moment
In Grace Jones' work and that of the other black artists influenced by her, we see the wedding of disco and punk; art and fashion; male and female, animal and human, and human and machine to create new notions of black sexuality. Jones' use of drag puts her into the larger history of the ways that performers of the African Diaspora use performance in complex ways to lobby a critique of the dehumanization of black people. Yet Jones' use of drag and other techniques of performing identity pose challenges of readability. She is, in many ways a trickster figure, sliding out of grasp of both her fans and critics. Like other trickster performers of color who rose to prominence during the same period of the 1980's and early 1990's, Jones uses an outsized, “strange” public persona-one that often risks caricature-to lobby critique and to express anger and ultimately, agency. In this essay, I explore Jones's strategies of drag, theatricality, and disidentificaiton, focusing in on her One Man Show (1981), her performance collaboration with partner Jean-Paul Goude, and in her appearance as the “Corporate Cannibal” Strange in Reggie Hudlin's 1992 film, Boomerang.