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[Pn. 4] An Obeast Walks into a Museum: The Politics of Fat Oppression, Performing the Other, and Museum Display in Rachel Herrick’s Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies

19 October 2013


North Carolina-based artist Rachel Herrick’s Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies (MOCS; 2010-2012) confronts the conventional structures of art and natural history museum displays while embracing strategies of contemporary art that seek to interrogate the distinction between subject and object; or she who sees and she who is seen. As such, MOCS mocks the institution of the museum to expose both its colonialist discourse and its perpetration of the dominant gaze. Performed by and modeled on her own fat and female body, the focus of Herrick’s MOCS is the Obeast: a bipedal animal approximately five and half feet tall and weighing about 300 pounds. A clever portmanteau bringing together the words obesity and beast, Herrick’s Obeast speaks directly to the current moral panic over the alleged “obesity epidemic.” Herrick breaks down the boundary between the corporeal and the discursive, becoming the animal so many westerners believe fat people to be. Part cultural satire and part conceptual artwork, the Obeast’s attendant Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies is a museological parody that pokes fun of the many ways in which fat people, especially fat women, have been ridiculed in contemporary social and scientific arenas. In asserting the need for productive inquiries into the ways in which art helps to deconstruct a gendered version of fatness as a physical and moral failing in contemporary culture, this paper explores the implications for Herrick's MOCS project by analyzing her use of strategies that challenge the conventions of objective knowledge and fatphobic and colonialist discourse.


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