Video Installation Catalogue
Colonising Las Meninas (3:44 min)
James Sey is a writer, theorist, sometime artist and academic. He is a Research Associate in the Faculty of Fine Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. He is currently interested in photography and trauma, but has written and published extensively on a wide range of topics in visual culture and cultural studies.
To Be King: Colonising Foucault's Las Mininas
At the centre of the To Be King narrative hangs the mirror. The mirror is also the centre around which the painting Las Meninas by Velásquez and the text Las Meninas by Foucault circulate, for it is in the mirror that the shadowy Spanish King Philip IV and his wife are depicted.
Their reflection places them outside the space of the painting. The space where the king stands is also occupied by the viewer and in addition in the To Be King installation it is the place which is occupied by the sculpture The Black Infanta.
In the narrative of To Be King, the mirror is the place where the body of the King materialises and is ‘dethroned’ by characters from the periphery. Placing the dwarfs, meninas and the princess in the role from which the dominant gaze of the king originates points to the possibility of a different order of things and highlights the fragility of the established and dominant order.
In To be King, the artist, Christine Dixie, performs the roles of the artist Velásquez, the menina, Dona Maria and the dwarf Maribarbola. By enacting multiple roles within the narrative Dixie reveals the construction of self as an enactment.
The Artist: In To be King Dixie paints a moustache on her face and stands in front of an easel , imitating the pose of Velásquez in front of his easel in the painting Las Meninas. This gesture is made with a certain irony, the moustache an indicator of the impossibility of being a ‘genius’ male artist. The gendered ambiguity of the female artist in this role is highlighted by the mirror which the artist holds in her hands as opposed to the palette held by the ‘real’ artist, Velásquez.
The Dwarf: The dwarf Maribarbola is enacted by Christine Dixie. The rose held by the dwarf makes reference to Oscar Wilde’s story The Birthday of the Infanta in which the princess gives the dwarf a rose from her hair. The dwarf, who in Wilde’s story is more fully human than the princess, reverses the dominant logic of the Spanish court. Dwarfs in that context were present to reinforce the established ‘order of things’, a logic which is challenged by Dixie in this installation.
To Be King: Colonising Foucault’s Las Meninas
Outside the frame of the ‘painting’ stands a ‘real’ museum guard. In lecture 31, Dissection of the Psychical Personality from Sigmund Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis he argues that The Parents, (the King and Queen), and the culturally acceptable norms they embody, are internalised and become the child’s super-ego. In To Be King this super-ego is externalised onto the figure of the museum guard, whose omnipotent presence speaks of prohibition.
Facing the projection stands a sculpture, The Black Infanta. The Black Infanta is the embodiment of everything the king is not. Young, female, dark, peripheral, powerless. In dialogue with the king in the mirror, she both stands in the space reserved for him and is outside of him. A child from the border she offers an alternative, a possibility of another way in which to view the order of things.
The (Post) Colony and Europe – Periphery and Centre: South African landscape and the Spanish Court.
In To Be King, the contemporary post-colonial space of the South African landscape symbolises a place of periphery and the colony. This space is brought into juxtaposition and dialogue with the seventeenth century Spanish Court, a place which in this installation becomes symbolic of the centre of power and wealth.
The sculptural component of the installation, The Black Infanta is associated with the unconscious. She is placed on an enlarged headrest, an African object associated with sleeping and dreaming. A young girl she embodies everything that the Spanish King Philip IV is not.
To Be King situates itself as a destabilising narrative in which the king is dethroned. Positioning characters and spaces from the periphery in the place from which the dominant gaze originates points to the possibility of a different order of things and highlights the fragility of the established and dominant order.
To Be King: Colonising Foucault’s Las Meninas
The dwarf, who in Wilde’s story is more fully human than the princess, reverses the dominant logic of the Spanish court. Dwarfs in that context were present to reinforce the established ‘order of things’.
The hereditary right of the royal lineage was made visible by deliberately placing a misshapen dwarf next to a prince or princess. This coupling was often depicted in dynastic children’s portraits in this era.  “ Dwarves and ‘natural fools’, prized at most European courts though nowhere more than in Spain, were often included in their masters’ portraits, to be leant on or petted in the same way as slaves or faithful dogs.” 
The rose is associated in Oscar Wilde’s story with his humiliation. In To Be King, the rose, held closely to the dwarf’s heart, stands as a sign of the dwarf’s subjugation. On set in To Be King I as the ‘dwarf’ move (on my knees) with an ungainly gait to centre stage, the place recently occupied by the princess. I/She throws down the rose like a gauntlet, a challenge to the representational system I/she is classified by.
The Visual Field and the Place of the King
In this multi-media video installation work the original Velásquez painting Las Meninas is restaged through the lens of Foucault’s text Las Meninas. What is revealed in this work is the possibility of a historically-charged and explicitly post-colonial reworking of an art historical reading of the Velásquez painting. Foucault’s text Las Meninas which is the first chapter to his book The Order of Things is used in To be King as a philosophical foundation from which to meditate on ideas around representation, classification systems, sovereignty, power and language.
In To be King text is also used literally as image. The artist, Christine Dixie, standing in for the figure of Velásquez, becomes a paper cut-out made from the pages of the text Las Meninas by Foucault. In a climatic sequence of the video she is burnt away, the ashes blown across the South African landscape.
The National Arts Festival, South Africa, July 2014
The Cape Town Art Fair, Feb. 2015
The Weiner Festwochen Exhibition, Vienna, May 2015
Coronet Cinema International Fair, London
Palazzo Bembo, Venice, European Cultural Foundation
The Menina: Kneeling in the pose of an annunciating angel greeting the Virgin, is how Foucault describes the menina to the left of the princess in his essay Las Meninas. It is this association which is emphasized in Dixie’s portrayal of the menina, Dona Maria. The real life relationship of Dixie as the mother of Rosalie who plays the role of the princess contributes to the layered roles of performance as artist and mother.
Standing in the dark, in front of the flickering screen, watching alongside the unseeing eyes of The Black Infanta, the viewer, herself being watched, becomes a participant in an exchange that reveals the complicity of power through the act of looking.