Gender Monologues
Diana Blok

Challenging gender boundaries on six screens

When writer Don Bloch and I launched Adventures in Cross-Casting in 1996, I knew I was facing a challenge where limits would be transcended.  The idea of photographing actors who would choose and impersonate characters of the opposite sex was certainly beyond the conventional gender codes for both the audience and most actors. In Gender Monologues I return to this concept, but this time through the moving image. Six Brazilian and Dutch actors choose six-minute monologues originally written for iconic characters and personalities of the opposite sex to be performed and filmed.
When we asked actors what role of the opposite sex they most wanted to play, clearly we touched deep chords. Some plunged into new fantasies, for others the dream had long been inside them; we released it. Our original plan envisioned people responding to our challenge by choosing a juicy part of some classic – as some did do, but it didn’t always work like that. Far from it.  I can say however, that choices ran deep. A number of actors wished to emulate a performance that had blown them away. They were led by their feelings for an actor in a part, not by the part in the abstract. Others went for alter egos. Others... But have a look for yourself.

One thing that happened without fail, however, was the actors displayed a degree of patience and curiosity that was deeply impressive. They took their time to achieve their transformations, watching themselves in the mirror as the make-up and costumes took them farther away from themselves until that “Yes, this is it!” – the moment of recognition arrived.  It is the same key moment I know from taking my portraits which after so many years I am still at a loss to explain, though it stops my heart each time I witness it and attempt to capture it through my lens.

Six screens, six video portraits, six dissonant voices, six viewers. Between silence and spoken monologues, the intrinsic tension of border zones is redefined and turned into a poetic exercise of presumed interaction. While one of them speaks, the others wait, watch, and listen. Some say the prime impulse of theatre is both confronting our condition limited by daily reality and to incline us to experience foreign and plural identities in our own bodies. In this piece, both impulses are present.

In between theatre and video, literature and photography, voice and movement, Brazil and the Netherlands, we recognize in this project the enormous potential to create a global dialogue expanded to other continents in order to build an even richer diversity of monologues!  I risk saying our intention is to free individuals from the confines of hetero-normative thought patterns implanted by society’s growing discriminatory attitudes, liberating the imagination to explore the natural range of gender diversity and fluidity. 

The chosen monologues are pieces extracted from classics and inspired by memorable lines delivered by iconic characters and figures of Western culture. Cinderella meets Martin Luther King Jr. who meets Antonin Artaud who meets Maria Cecilia Nachtergaele who meets Lyubov Andreievna who meets Hamlet, and they will continue to meet new characters. These are portraits of our time; speeches and visions that yield revealing thoughts and deep conversations about identity, revolution and desire.

Diana Blok, Rio de Janeiro, 2016


Artist statement

My photographic work has evolved from a need for understanding, change and transformation. I grew up a migrant, a nomad, a pilgrim, a citizen of the state of transition. I traveled light, shedding memorabilia, paraphernalia, and roots.

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay to a Dutch Jewish diplomat-father and a Catholic Argentinean mother I lived in Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia until moving to the Netherlands in the early 70’s. Growing up where civil wars were a reality, I witnessed through a young girl’s eyes polarities that became sources of inspiration.

As a diaspora artist I learned to express cultures and identities through my work, challenging ideas and structures of the established world, where I often felt as if looking in from the outside.

Staging and framing reality, making choices and editing allowed me to retreat into a world of my own, with all the characters inside it. I developed an open attitude to a sense of place—who am I in all of this? Sexual identity, women’s rights, gender inequality, imposed esthetics, racial discrimination and religious belief systems became my focus and visual quest. My archive serves as a diary, a memory bank.

Photography is a ritual where memory and reverie are made visible and friends tangible. In this ritual I am still able to relocate, redefine the heart of my being and my relationship to those around me. Visually I continue to question answers.

Portraiture gives me the illusion that I can assemble an extended family, frozen memories as stepping stones to moments in the past. Novelist Bart Plantega wrote for EYE magazine: ‘Blok’s photos of people – be they friends, family, or passersby – serve as heavy stones that might temporarily serve to hold down the corners of a nomad’s tent.’

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