Ready Mix (Installation)
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In Ready Mix, Disorientalism’s preoccupation with junk culture translates into junk food. Using 3D lenticular prints and bobbleheads, the duo stirs up (or mixes up) the story of Aunt Jemima’s century-long makeover from “slave mammy” to “modern working mother.” The lenticular images are inspired by Nancy Green, Anna Robinson, and Rosie Lee Moore Hall, women who were hired by the Quaker Oats Company to tour the United States smiling as Aunt Jemima. In solidarity with Green, Robinson, Hall, and other affective laborers, the Disorientals restage “back of house” and “front of house” scenes from art history that highlight working women.
Ironically Green, Robinson, and Hall’s jobs didn’t directly involve food. Rather, they were affective laborers whose job was to travel around the United States giving big smiles to make customers feel more comfortable with the idea of mass-produced food. The Disorientals connect this job of smiling to the histories of minstrel performance and the exaggerated grotesque smile of blackface. In solidarity with Green, Robinson, Hall, and laborers like them, Disorientalism appropriated canonical genre paintings that depict women working, including two “back of house” and two “front of house” scenes. Connecting to our ongoing exploration of failure in products of popular culture, the disgraceful failure of blackface is shown most forcefully in Just Add Water, when adding water (as the pancake mix recipe instructs) causes the scene to flood, washing away the makeup. Meanwhile, in every scene, viewers see a line near our hairline revealing yellowface underneath. Yellowface, as frequently deployed in previous projects, also appears in Get Both Kinds, in which two “kinds” of laborers are intersectionally exoticized into different laboring roles by categories of race and gender.
The titles in this series are appropriated from Aunt Jemima advertising campaigns.
A Note on Woke-Washing:
After we completed this project, The Quaker Oats Company removed the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and her name from its product line in 2020. We embrace the elimination of racist imagery from circulation. However, we view this as an attempt to address deep-seated and complex issues literally only on the surface.
From the perspective of "The Food Groups," the removal of an image does not solve the problem of fundamentally exploitative labor practices under racial capitalism, which this series addresses. We began “The Food Groups" series in 2011 with the realization that there were no Asian food industry trade characters despite the extreme racialization of food industry trade characters as a genre. Ironically, the erasure of these characters from packaging not only obscures the real labor of Black women like Green, Robinson, and Moore Hall. More profoundly, it further enters them into the same category of invisibility that Asians and Asian Americans already occupy.
Ready Mix, 2011
Installation with four 3D lenticular lightboxes (each 36” x 42”, framed), four bobblehead dolls with auto-bobble stands, sound, performance
Stylist: Lorraine Rudin
Photography: Alex Golden
Image post-production: Nicole Companik
Documentation photography: Pacific Northwest College of Art, The Wassaic Project, Teodora Dakova, Arizona State University, Disorientalism
Supported in part by Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, Pacific Northwest College of Art, and The Wassaic Project.
Ready Mix is a chapter in The Food Groups. Works include: Just Add Water, Get Both Kinds, I’se in Town, Honey, Nothing Could Be Finer, Incorporated, Light Cleaning.