As race exists insofar as people use it to identify themselves and others racially it is susceptible to changes in the ideological climate. Comedy provides insight into such relations, its presses upon the root of which is often fractious to discuss, it draws on the contradictions of social conventions and the release of laughter confirms a shared belief between the audience and the originator. My research raised a series of questions: How has the character of the racial Other transformed? What context allows for the diversification of its representation? To what extent is black culture reproduced for blacks as opposed to non-blacks?
A Comedy of Race, an installation of six portraits and wall panels investigates how characterisations of race in comedy performances have evolved. It contrasts seventeenth-century Spanish court’s jester performances with Felix Dexter’s comedy about the trials of being black in 1990’s Britain. This installation focuses on the dynamics between the creator, performer and the audience around the subject. Opposite the portraits of seventeenth-century racial types impersonated by a ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ buffoon are installed three portraits of Dexter’s characters. By working to recreate the experience of racial comedy, I hope to near towards a deeper understanding of the complexity and paradoxes of the racial discourse. This project utilises the the compositional formula of the canon of seventeenth century Spanish Jester portraiture. Depicted as if caught in character, the portraits express the racial caricatures present in the popular imagination.