Masked ‘Narcissister’ Finds Power in Physical Vulnerability

On this day in 2018, Narcissister Organ Player was released in theaters. A fascinating artistic documentary, this film is both created by and about the incredible Narcissister. 

Narcissister is a Brooklyn-based performance artist whose work lies in the intersection between gender, sexuality, and race. Donning a mask in public spaces and often working with mannequins, Narcissister utilizes her anonymity to explore these topics without shying away from being controversial. 

Narcissister began her performing arts career studying at the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. It was here that she began her exploration of Black dance and performance. She went on to work as a window stylist and designer while also performing as a burlesque dancer in venues around the city. Perhaps her work in window styling in part inspired her subsequent use of mannequins and stylized masks, while her work in burlesque inspired her performances which comment on female sexuality. 

Narcissister’s first public performance was in 2014. It was entitled The Mannequin and it was the first of her performances to utilize the masks and mannequins in order to comment on the sexualization and objectification of the female body. This began her ongoing exploration of that particular subject, drawing from her own experiences in a Black, female body. One of her most notable works titled I’m Every Woman, in which she coined the reverse strip-tease, which showed her pulling pieces of clothing out of her orifices and getting fully dressed. Later, in 2016, she repeated this concept with her performance titled Marilyn, this time dressing exactly like Marilyn Monroe. 

 

Later, Narcissister delved into the world of film. In 2019, her short film Breast Work premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In it, she displayed her breasts in public, in order to explore societal restrictions on and control of the female body. In 2018, she released Narcissister Organ Player, an experimental documentary which combined clips of her performance pieces with animation and home video clips. 

Utilizing all of these mediums, Narcissister recounts her upbringing and explores her relationship with her family, and her mother in particular, especially as it relates to and manifests in their physical bodies. As FF2 Contributor Hannah Mayo explains in her review of the film, “Narcissister has never limited the physical potential of her body, which she says is due to the closeness she felt with her mother’s body. This principle shines through in her outrageous yet powerful dramatizations. Juxtaposed with the home footage, the deeper theme of the film is revealed: the physicality of the mother daughter relationship.”

Though making art always takes vulnerability, Narcissister’s work may be on a whole new level. With each performance, she bares all, and is both literally and figuratively naked. At the same time, she exercises this vulnerability with immense power and confidence. This is a very particular sort of bravery, one which makes an impact right away, and also for years to come.

© Julia Lasker (11/7/23) Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Read Hannah Mayo’s review of Narcissister Organ Player here.

Watch Narcissister Organ Player here.

Learn more about Narcissister here.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Narcissister Masks on view in “The Cult of Beauty” exhibition at The Wellcome Trust in London (UK). Photo courtesy of artist Narcissister and used with permission. Here is the text that explains the display:

Click on image to enlarge.

Middle Photo: Narcissister’s first museum commission “(Almost) all my dead mother’s beautiful things” on view in “The Cult of Beauty” exhibition at The Wellcome Trust in London (UK). Photo courtesy of artist Narcissister and used with permission.

Bottom Photo: Performance Artist Narcissister attends the La Mobiliare Conversation during the 71st Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Photo Credit: Mickael Chavet (8/9/18) Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: R24KG8

Tags: alvin ailey, alvin ailey american dance theater, Black female performance artist, I'm Every Woman, Marilyn, Marilyn Monroe, Narcissister, Narcissister Organ Player, performance artist, The Mannequin

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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