Kalup Linzy’s performance videos often live in the fantastically surreal world of soap operas. His ostensibly low-fi videos feature dramatic performances, recurring characters, and a production value that has nothing to hide. The absence of production gloss and glitz keeps you focused at the characters at hand; also existing as a subtle reminder that a person, an artist is behind the work.
Growing up in a small rural town in Florida, Linzy lived a life surrounded by extended family – being raised primarily by his grandmother and aunt. The glamorous world of soap operas was an integral part of his childhood and familial life. In an interview in BOMB Magazine Linzy states: “Soap operas were a part of life. People would talk about the characters as if they were real people. There was so much pride in them” (Stillman 2008: 47). These characters existed as an extension of their daily lives.
Soap operas have never been seen as a bastion of culture or art, often representing white characters in affluent neighborhoods with dramatic storylines in a glossy reality. In the dramas, there is often a simplistic binary of good and evil represented, but the storylines demand a committed audience as it weaves characters and narratives in such fantastical ways one is forced to stay tuned in to stay afloat of the fantasy world of changing identities, betrayals, and romantic relationships. Linzy takes what some might deem a low-class guilty pleasure and queers the form.
Linzy often performs multiple characters, or an entire cast of characters across a series. Being a black and queer artist, instead of simply emulating the performances of soap opera actors, he brings these characters into his own world, performing across gender roles and identities. As a result, the familiarity of a certain mise en scène – a jealous lover, a lover’s quarrel – becomes slightly askew with the manipulation of voice, either through Linzy’s disembodied voice or through the speeding up or slowing down of another actor’s voice. Linzy’s characters are connected not only by the thread of his performance and imagination, but also by the complicated lines of family, friends, and lovers. As described by Tavia Nyong’o: “Young, messy, and urban though they may be, Linzy’s performance personae are linked through bonds of family and sentiment to a rural, regional lifeworld held together by strong, black women” (Nyong’o 2010: 76). Yet, Linzy is careful about getting too close to these identities and labels of queer and black art, “I don’t want my work to always be thought of as gay this, gay that—black this, black that. I can’t stand that—those are not the only elements going on in my work. While this work may make people who connect to it feel liberated, it can also keep me and them marginalized” (Stillman 2008: 51).
Nyong’o, Tavia. “Brown Punk: Kalup Linzy’s Musical Anticipations.” TDR: The Drama Review, 54, No. 3: (2010) 71-86.
Stillman, Nick, Kalup Linzy. “Kalup Linzy.” BOMB, No. 104: (2008) 44-51.