You’re Joking, Aren’t You?
Rachel Garfield studied for her MA at Central Saint Martins before completing her PhD at the Royal College of Art in London in 2003. Through her film and video portraits, Garfield explores the formation of subjectivity in relation to race, class and gender, as well as interrogating notions of authenticity and hierarchies of victim-hood. Although initially from a Fine Art background, Garfield sees her work as having an ongoing relationship with the traditions and concerns of avant-garde documentary film.
Garfield examines racial identity and the concept of the stereotype, as well as the complexities of how visibility – what we ‘think we see’– affects our assumptions about who someone ‘is’. You’re Joking, Aren’t You? is a series of vignettes in which actor Wayne Atkinson describes, in varying modes of address, and in different guises and domestic settings, everyday encounters involving racial prejudice. The first, told whilst standing in the kitchen is reminiscent of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, and involves a lengthy rendition of a chance meeting with a child who calls him a ‘nigger’.
The subject of the second story is his engagement to a Portuguese woman whose belief it is that the African ‘dilemma’ (the extensive poverty and unrest associated with the myriad nations of the continent) is the fault of the Jewish people. The third vignette sees Atkinson standing in front of a red wall, describing seeing an ‘Eastern European beggar’ in London and being accosted by a black woman who confides in him her belief that the gypsies should be ‘sent back’ to where they came from. Garfield’s protagonist notes wryly to the camera that these would have been the same kinds of comments made about her parents when they first arrived in Britain. You’re Joking might also be seen as participating in a dialogue with Portrait of Jason, a 1967 documentary produced and directed by Shirley Clarke, featuring a gay, African-American hustler and aspiring cabaret performer, the film’s eponymous narrator.
Garfield is Director of Postgraduate Studies at the University of Reading and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Newcastle in the Departments of Geography and Fine Art. In 2005 she curated the exhibition Radical and Modest: Work, Leisure and the Everyday at Ben Uri in St. John’s Wood, juxtaposing work by Richard Billingham, Sonia Boyce, Jeremy Deller, Stephen Dwoskin and Chad McCail with works from Ben Uri’s Collection by artists including David Azuz, David Bomberg, Josef Herman, Clara Klinghoffer and Jacob Kramer on the theme of working life and popular pastimes.
Rachel Garfield lives in London, England.