Sometimes travel takes on a certain theme. A story within the trip starts, develops and resolves itself during the museum shows, performances and visits with old friends. This happened to me on a recent visit to New York.
On Friday I went to a session of The Feminism and Music Conference at the City University of New York Graduate Center to hear my friend Robin give a paper. Another woman presented a paper about Lil’ Kim, the rapper, at the same session. She discussed Lil’ Kim’s transition to sex goddess of the universe as a study in race and class. Lil’ Kim is famous for turning up at the MTV Awards with one of her surgically enhanced breasts exposed except for a pasty. Diana Ross, never one to be upstaged, evidently walked up to her and flicked the pasty.
Sunday evening I went to an evening of performance art at CB’s Gallery next to the famous rock and roll haven CBGB’s. I was surprised to see two men in the audience walking around completely naked. One of them wanted to read his poetry to me but I brushed him off by saying “If it’s not Virgil or Dante, I’m not interested”. I was even more surprised that four of the five female performers did a burlesque act. One wore a lobster suit, she kept circling her breasts with her lobster claws, and another started out dressed as a motorcycle accident victim. I was finally getting the picture here. Today’s feminism is reclaiming sexuality for women instead of making women the object of men’s desire.
I spent Monday morning with Gary Powers at the Roller Derby Hall of Fame located in Brooklyn. Gary runs the Roller Derby Foundation which raises money for Roller Derby skaters, many of whom live on a fixed income. He and I talked about the current version of Roller Derby that started in 2004. The new Roller Derby has women-only teams who skate around the track in fishnet stockings and create female personas with names such as Tequila Mockingbird and Juana Rumbbel. Original Roller Derby skaters were a rough bunch. One elbow from Joanie Weston and you went flying into the rail. There was a reason they called her the “Blonde Bomber”, not the “Blonde Bombshell”.
Monday afternoon I went to the Museum of Modern Art to see photographer Lee Friedlander’s show. There were four photographs of Madonna amongst the nudes. The pictures were taken before the blonde hair and the pointy breastplates. You can see her underarm hair for heaven’s sake.
I had come full circle. I had taken a trip within a trip from Lil’ Kim the sex goddess, a transition pioneered by Madonna, to performance art’s fascination with striptease, to Roller Derby in fishnet stockings then all the way back to the unadulterated Madonna.