My mother was a sci-fi enthusiast, who successfully transmitted the virus to me, via Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and the more obscure television program, In Search of... (ellipses intended). Hosted by Leonard Nimoy, it imagined the last days of King Tut, investigated the Shroud of Turin, The Great Lakes Triangle and the unstoppable horror of Deadly Fire Ants. Sunday evenings, in the time slot just before 60 Minutes, "theory and conjecture" ruled our household as I was trained in the ways of conspiracy making. The force is strong in me. And, as a nearly middle-aged black American woman, with nary a marriage prospect in sight (something in the milk ain't clean!), I can relate to the angst that artist Ayana Evans explores in her ongoing performance work: I Just Came Here To Find A Husband.
The work is simple, Evans, dressed appropriately for a Black Ivy League Alumni Gala, or an afternoon at the AFRO PUNK festival, or even at an exhibition opening, resplendent in her Operation Catsuit, catsuit, she dons a letter sized sheet of paper staking her claim on the evening's purpose. Akin to the classic "kick me" sign, it brings all the attention to her unsuspecting posterior. Indeed, most of the images documenting the work, via social media, feature the back of her head, distilling the artist's identity into a mass of dreadlocked tresses. I propose that this is a reflection of the faceless "Husband" that Evans is hoping to "Find".
But as I said, I can thoroughly relate to this exercise; the absurdity of it, bringing into sharp relief, the constructed version of "Husband" in light of a relationship self-help cannon that includes Steve Harvey's Think Like a Lady, Act Like a Man and a contemporary social context that celebrates the Obamas as an aspirational model. In addition to sci-fi fandom, my mother, along with a host of other community players, instilled the notion of "Husband" as a kind of faceless figure as well. This is not to say that that I didn't know male marriage partners, I did, but the nuances of a partnership that might connect with the realities of my own goals and aspirations, wasn't really acknowledged. Mostly I was (am) made aware of "Husband" as a necessary component of appropriate cis feminine adulthood. I have been warned. And I am running out of time. Yet in this date challenged space of NYC, I am being introduced to another set of possibilities, via the married and mothered, that posit that I might simply enjoy the role of "auntie", relish the freedom of pursuing my work and marry at the ripe age of 50-is-the-new-40.
Ms. Evans is a self-identified feminist, so I appreciate the possibility that her political identity is askew to the (un)intended messages of the piece. On one hand, we are a witness to the socialized expectation of marriage, that, for a cadre of Scandal devotees is, as yet, unrealized. And we are made privy to the lengths one might pursue, as the means to an end. The economy of materials suggests that we might even take up the mantle for ourselves, In Search of... Conversely, the choice of placement (backside) and the disposable quality of the sign, makes me question the commitment of the artist, if not only in the search for a "Husband", then in a fully invested execution of the performance, as Art, rather than art therapy.