an artists standing with their arms outreached and crossed reaching towards the camera, performance art
Person Cross Arms, Photo by Úrsula Madariaga

Have you ever witnessed a live art piece that didn’t fit neatly into one category of art? Perhaps it was at a museum, in a theatre, or even on the street! If so, you have come to the right article. What you might have experienced is performance art.

According to dictionary.com, performance art is “a collaborative art form originating in the 1970s as a fusion of several artistic media, as painting, film, video, music, drama, and dance, and deriving in part from the 1960s performance happenings.” Some well known performance artists of the 60s and 70s were, Allan Kaprow, Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramović. These artists are from all over the globe and have paved the way for what performance art is today. They were daring, political, and unique in their views of the world and how that manifested in their work.

If you’re someone who, like me, often conflates theatre and performance art as the same thing, I want to share one distinct difference I’ve found. According to enotes.com “Theater and performance art often converge, one becoming the other and vice versa, but drama begins with the playwright and performance art begins with the visual artist.” Theatre is typically viewed by an audience all at once, while performance art can be viewed individually at different times. Not to mention, “the emphasis is more on the visual than on plot, character or language.”

a woman dressed in black in an empty room holding her head, performance art
Woman in Black Gi Standing Beside Gray Wall,
Photo by Daria Shevtsova 

Though performance art grew in popularity around the 1960s and 1970s, it actually originated from earlier in the 20th century. It was around this time that avant-garde artists experimented with using painting or even sculpture, as writer Shelley Esaak talks about in this article. In addition, experimental theatre, also known as radical theatre, was quite popular. To connect the dots here, performance art sprouted from the avant-garde era, and experimental forms of expression and creation.

A more recent example of performance art is presented by Jamaican-Canadian performance artist Camille Turner. Her work digs into research about the slave trade in Canadian history. From 2016-2019, she had an ongoing exhibit called, Afronautic Research Lab, which originated in Newfoundland and then travelled across Canada. Guests were invited to read old news prints about the slave trade, and the guides who were part of the exhibit were dressed in white futuristic attire (including turbans and boots). These guides were called Afronauts. Camille is an artist who tackles issues in her art such as “race, space, home, and belonging” and you can read more about her work on her website, camilleturner.com.

This art form is fascinating, isn’t it? As we can see, it’s been around for quite sometime – with it’s creative/accessible form and ties to politics, humanity, and radicalism, I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. I for one am grateful for this artistic medium, and the way it shifts our perspectives on our society. Comment below and tell us about artists or art pieces you admire!

CBC Arts – This art reminds Canada of our history of slavery

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