Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage



Dabel Gavaldos and Manuel Segade

in: Gavaldon, Sabel, and Manuel Segade. Elements of Vogue: Un Caso De Estudio De Performance Radical = A Case Study in Radical Performance. Móstoles, Madrid: CA2M, 2019.

Other than realness—that slippery notion conveying both authenticity and artifice— there is not a single word in the vernacular language of ballroom culture as elusive, and yet omnipresent, as shade. It also happens to be one of the many slang forms that, ever since the mainstream success of the film Paris Is Burning, have been voraciously absorbed by white gay culture, where more often than not this slang is devoid of its nu- ances, original purpose and specificity.

The precise meaning of shade is best un- derstood when considered in close relation to another subcultural term: reading. In ballroom terminology (or vogue-cabulary), reading means exposing your opponent’s flaws with an air of graceful defiance; and to come up with a good read is the eleva- tion of insult to an art form. This is all part of a rhetorical game played to test one’s artistry and inventiveness, in a ritual so 
deeply embedded in the popular cultures of the African diaspora that its roots have been traced back to slavery. However, this game of cunning is in direct opposition to yet another practice that requires more subtlety, which is shade.

As the legendary drag queen Dorian Co- rey made clear when interviewed on film, shade is a half-veiled expression of ridicule or contempt that takes an exceptionally ambiguous, devious or indirect form. This can be done with words or, more often, by directing an undermining gesture to- wards an opponent. Shade is the name of an economy of signs and gestures operat- ing in the shadows, at the margins of dis- course. Shade results in the emergence of a second level of reading, and therefore presupposes the complicity of an audi- ence which has an ear for shade, creating awareness of a shared subcultural code.

That is precisely what makes shade such an ambivalent performance: it’s a sign of both recognition and disrespect.

The distinction between reading and shade—two practices rooted in minority sur- vival—plays a fundamental role in this book. As one might expect from an exhibition cat- alogue, the curatorial texts presented here provide a reading of radical performance by addressing the works on display at CA2M. On the other hand, the apparatus of quota- tions and cross-references that punctuates this publication does more than just situate the exhibited artworks in their historical context. Quoting from myriad sources, the book throws shade on any authoritative in- terpretation of history.

These quotes engage in a subtle, often deceptive conversation with one another. Taking inspiration from rhetorical practices invented by the African diaspora, such as those described in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s pioneering essay The Signifying Monkey, the quotations in this book re-signify other texts and images, negotiating through sev- eral layers of meaning. This collection of short texts composes what the academic publishing ghetto likes to call a reader. But this reader is punctuated with shade. It’s a reader operating in the shadows, between the lines, on the fringes of normativity. It’s a shader, so to speak.

Voguing needs to happen, not to be represented. That’s why CA2M’s atrium, at the heart of the museum, has been trans- formed into a dance floor. Likewise, this book makes no attempt to “represent”, “make visible” or “give voice” to the non- conforming bodies that congregate in this minoritarian public sphere called ballroom. Refusing to accept the logic of political rep- resentation, we would rather think of cu- rating as a form of articulation: a platform to invoke dissident bodies, languages and

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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