In the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, Juliana Huxtable displayed a 3D printed scan of her own naked body. In her first UK solo show, her focus shifts to what covers the bodies of others. The exhibition is centered around ten panels of text displaying fragments from a larger narrative written by Huxtable. Threaded through the story of a young blonde who falls in with a crowd of skinheads in London, is an analysis of struggles over the meaning of the white skinhead aesthetic: bomber jackets, Fred Perry, Ben Sherman. With a control of tone that is as caustic as it is comic, the panel texts dissect how both anti-racist and traditional skinheads ‘refuse to cede the meaning of the Fred Perry brand to the far-right in the same way that one might fight for the liberation of an occupied space’. The longer European history of that fight is evoked in a vision of ‘A Nazi Shopping Trip to a Ben Sherman and Fred Perry sample sale in Paris’. But the text targets the limits of the white left as much as the fascist right: the aesthetic of the French anti-fascist group SCALP ‘incorporated the rebellious image of Geronimo and Native American resistance, evident when the group’s members chanted: Le Pen you’re a fascist, we will scalp you!’
The panels are an exercise in provincialising whiteness: what is at stake in this white battle over the meaning of style? Classic texts of 1970s cultural studies like Dick Hebdige’s ‘Subculture: The Meaning of Style’ saw white skinheads combining elements from Caribbean street style and white working class culture in order to radically subvert their racialised meanings through re-appropriation: a subversion white skinheads always controlled. This is the intellectual history invoked by the Rock Against Racism and Skinhead Reggae Ska badges pinned to the prints of bomber jackets on the surrounding walls. When contemporary Antifa activists and white gay men adopt the skinhead aesthetic, they too declare their power to control meaning through re-appropriation by emptying it of its racialised and gendered violence. Huxtable’s installation shows that far-right and Antifa white activists risk mirroring each other not only in their appearance, but in their refusal to give up control over the meaning of signification, an unquestioned control that defines being racialised as white. Or as text under a tattoo of ‘Swastikafetish’ asks: ‘Why do they love a police costume so much?
Surrounding this dissection of what James Baldwin called the white pathology are assemblages of painted fabric, pins, and buttons, layered with images of black punks and one of Huxatable herself, in a futuristic appearance that seems to look back on the historicized fabrics of jeans and tartan. Three digital photographs show close-ups of a black male body tattooed with slogans from ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Anti-Antifa’, a racist group with a line of fascist fashion. It’s a reminder of the bodies over which this battle for meaning is staged, and that this battle is about who controls the meaning of these bodies.