Performing Gender

Tiff Oben Slick Man 2009

To date my art practice has sought to demonstrate the fluidity of identity and performivity of gender. The aim of these demonstrations has been to investigate the theory that subjectivity is social construction perpetuated in order to maintain the hetero-normative status quo.  Through an ongoing series of works I effectively objectified myself in order to perform different characters within various ranges of age, class, eras and genders (female to male and including what Yasumasa Morimura calls ‘the gray area in between’).[1]  I have done this primarily to unhinge the viewer’s notion of an essentialized, fixed sense of self and to highlight the hegemony behind ontological paradigms.

Tiff Oben, Chav, 2009

Gender performance continues to remain integral to my practice, although I have not performed males I have generated seven different females over the course of the year:

The Actress (contemporary)

The Business Analyst (contemporary)

The Rock Chick (contemporary)

The Secretary (1950s/60s)

The Opium Addict (1930s)

The Street Walker (Edwardian)

The Hysteric (Victorian)

I have continued to look at artists who remain key informants within my work, Cindy Sherman, Adrian Piper, Nikki S. Lee etc and have become increasingly interested in those which are performed in the public sphere engendering an elements of participation and reliance on the general public to further the work, its ideas and narratives. For example, Lee’s interact with and enactment of American social groups and Piper’s performance of the Mythic Male on the streets of New York.

Female to Male Drag

Why is there such a dearth of popular images of female-to-male (FTM) gender-crossing? Is it somehow more problematic for a female-born subject t take on overt signs of masculinity than it is more a male-born subject to take on femininity? Could it be that femininity – the throwaway gender, that inscrurable extraneous otherness – is available for play, while masculinity, which symbolizes power, cannot be tampered with?

Tiff Oben, Boy Racer, 2009


“Dress as a feature of self-representation is seen as a way of expressing psychological distinctiveness which we chose and make for ourselves.” (Lesbian Masks, Halla Bellof)

“gender presentation and sexuality […] intersects with an explosion in the production of art that takes as its subject the body and its coverings.” (Rrose is Rrose is Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography, Jennifer Blessing, 2006)

“wearing costumes, Cahun, Deren & Sherman not only reveal their many selves but also uncover an evolving fluid concept of  identity.” (Intro, Lynn Gumpert in Inverted Odysseys Shelley Rice, px)

“clothing […] as a vehicle of transformation, allowing a secretary to become a princess, any peasant to become a pasha.” (Inverted Odyssey, Rice p14)

“identify with the ancient archetypes given to us as cultural role models.” (Inverted Odyssey, Rice p14)

“self and society have collaborated in constructing an identity” (Lucy Lippard)

“general stereotypes […] the most artificial looking kinds of women […] This search for the artificial rather than the “real” epitomised the post modern aesthetic.” (Lucy Lippard)

[1] Morimura, Yasumasa & Kuspit, Donald, Daughter of Art History, London: Aperture, 2003.

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