I AM A MODEL MINORITY. I got good grades in math, I played tennis and the piano, and any dabbling in recreational drugs or light Marxism didn’t really faze anyone. But otherness always overtakes assimilation; I was always acutely aware of anomalousness, of exoticism or infantilization, of the weight of cliché.
This is the double bind of identity: of identifying with a set of norms all the while knowing you will never quite fit them, and that even if you do, it’s not enough. And no person, no matter where they come from, can ever put larger histories of difference and violence behind them. Indeed, the histories of identity and identitarian politics are inescapably at the center of the upheaval, brutality, mass migration, and iconoclasm erupting around the world today. So at a moment when we are supposedly post-identity, post-gender, post-racial, and even post-human, clearly we are none of those things, and we can’t pretend that we’re past those structures of identification that still shape and are shaped by experience, knowledge, and power.
This issue of Artforum aims to examine who is speaking, how we see, where we are. It’s precisely the we that’s at stake: because identity is never about some singular individual. Identity politics is not about individual interests or preferences, or some myth of an authentic self surging forth. The question of identity is as much about asserting one as it is about escaping it. Every form of subjectivity is also a form of exclusion and coercion.
And art is no mere mirror or vehicle for identity. Form can never be reduced to biography or some simple expression of a unified self. It is riven by difference. There’s a tendency now to describe contemporary artists’ engagement of identity as a mode of self-expression, as “first-person art.” But this is a woefully naive concept of subjectivity, one that forgets how identity is also imposed by others, by history, by institutions, by technology. As my colleague Elizabeth Schambelan has written, “When you’re talking about an art of identity, you’re not talking about first-person art. You’re talking about an art of the first and second and third person, an art in which the I (who we are to ourselves) is thoroughly mixed up with the you and the he and she and they (who we are to everyone else). It’s the recognition and renegotiation of those complexities that constitute the politics of identity politics.”
Barbara Kruger diagrams this very process of renegotiation on our cover, taking the invitation we sent to our contributors for this issue and dissecting its language, its mode of address, revealing the play of I and you and we and they in our assertions and assumptions. If Artforum’s own history is in many ways the story of identityits manifestations and erasures, from the controversy over modernism and primitivism in the 1980s to the legendary 1993 cover featuring Daniel Joseph Martinez’s statement I CAN’T IMAGINE EVER WANTING TO BE WHITEhere we hope to provoke contemporary questions about art and identity. In the pages that follow, a wide range of artists, critics, curators, and thinkers speak up, make pictures, cross borders, take stands. The sheer incommensurability of their voices shows us something of the impossibility and the infinitude of who we think we are.