Controversial Performance Artist Latifa Laâbissi Could Get a Top Job at France’s Musée de la Danse

Latifa Laâbissi could succeed Boris Charmatz as the head of the prestigious Musée de la Danse.

Latifa Laâbissi, speaking with Pensées Archipeliques. Image courtesy Pensées Archipeliques Vimeo.

The French performance artist Latifa Laâbissi, who caused outrage last year for her performance at MoMA PS1, is a leading candidate to take over the prestigious Musée de la Danse, France’s national center for choreography in Rennes.

Laâbissi’s solo performance in a Sunday Sessions at MoMA PS1 last January garnered negative reactions when she wore a Native American headdress and performed naked save for a French flag draped around her waist. She then proceeded to eat the flag.

The work, titled Self Portrait Camouflage, is originally from 2006. In advertising its staging of the work, MoMA said that it “uses tropes of caricature and the grotesque to conjure the silent aggressions and tensions at the heart of some immigrant experiences” and “evokes the imperialist custom of exhibiting indigenous people at World’s Fairs.” The child of Moroccan immigrants, Laâbissi often makes work that plays with and undercuts expectations about the representation of identity.

In response to an open letter expressing “utter disbelief and outrage” about the planned performance from Rosy Simas, a Seneca dancer and performer, the American Realness festival withdrew its co-sponsorship of Self Portrait Camouflage. The performance went on as planned at MoMA PS1.

After receiving complaints, Laâbissi changed the piece, removing the fake Sioux headdress and placing it on the floor. According to Christopher Green, Native American observers in the audience thought the revised gesture also showed ignorance about the traditional symbolism of the headdress.

Back home in France, Laâbissi enjoys a strong reputation, having worked as a dancer and choreographer since 1990.

Whoever becomes the head of the Musée de la Danse will succeed Boris Charmatz. In 2015, Charmatz earned rave reviews for turning the whole of London’s Tate Modern into an outpost of the Rennes-based institution with participatory mass performance pieces.

Charmatz has announced that he will step down at the end of this year, having held the position for three terms. According to an article in L’Ouest France, Laâbissi along with Fanny de Chaillé are being considered as a collaborative duo for the top job. There are five other groups and individual candidates in the running to take over the direction of the institution, and each will present a project to a jury in April.

Laâbissi did a guest residency at the museum in 2010 by invitation from Charmatz. The two have also collaborated on previous projects where Laâbissi has performed Charmatz’ choreography, but the current director will not have a say in the future direction of the institution.

The other candidates for the upcoming position consists of several teams (both groups and individuals are being considered). The shortlist includes Eric Minh Cuong Castaing; Julie Nioche with Virginie Mira and Isabelle Ginot; performers and choreographers Malgven Gerbes and David Brandstätter; and hip-hop dancers and choreographers from the collective Garde-Robe, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh, Linda Hayford, Sandrine Lescourant, Ousmane Sy, Iffra Dia, and Bouside Aït-Atmane.

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