Why Carla Rossi

Why Carla Rossi?

My performance work confronts white supremacy, complacency, and the confusion of "mixed" identities - of living in-between, particularly sexually and racially. I'm interested in the edge - that line between satire and sincerity, between critique and reification - as a site where transgression and transformation occur. That's why I'm drawn to drag as artwork. Drag often reinforces heterosexist projections of what makes a "woman," but - as theorist Judith Butler argues - it can also expose the cracks in binary sexism by blurring (or queering) gender. Queer drag exposes gender as a performed historical construction - a set of appropriated cues, images, or gestures that culturally signify masculine and feminine - rather than as a biological reality.

The character I play, Carla Rossi, started as an art project in 2010 and has since turned into a full-fledged persona, body of work, and occupation. I prefer the term "drag clown" over "drag queen" because I'm not trying to emulate women. I'm more interested in Coyote-style trickery similar to the clown’s objective - a clown says one thing while doing the opposite. In that same way I use Carla as a tool for critique. When I perform as her I wear whiteface in direct allusion to whiteness, clowning, and as a critical inversion of blackface. I call her the ghost of white privilege (and, as she would say, that’s funny because white privilege will never die). She's living whiteness.

Carla Rossi is my way of confronting whiteness within myself. She’s the intersection of my half-Native, half-German “mixed” heritage – an awkward ancestral collision leading to the joke that I’ve got genocide down both bloodlines, but it varies as to who’s on which side of it. As a queer performer, Carla is also an avenue for publicly and politically negotiating gender in a heterosexist binary. I refer to her as a she, and she sees herself as a she, but I don’t think she has a sex. She is an ancient creature, a sexless, non-human entity from mythologies past that has forgotten its origin. Like Dorothy in Oz, Carla comes to in contemporary America. But unlike Oz, Carla finds herself in a racist, heterosexist, misogynist, body-phobic, ableist, classist, capitalist, celebrity-driven society, and she wants in on the action. She thinks the best way to make it in this world is to become a famous white woman, an object for consumption.

So far it's working for her.

 
Carla Ricardo by Conan Magnuson

Carla Ricardo by Conan Magnuson

Illustration by Matty Newton

Illustration by Matty Newton