MoMA R&D

Salon 16 Fluid States of America

In Greek mythology, Proteus is an old prophet who can alter his form, posing as a serpent, a tree, and water, among other incarnations. His shape-shifting fluidity presaged contemporary notions of identity, which transcend boundaries previously considered immutable—nationality, gender, sexuality, race. Today, an open flow of information, culture, and people is contributing to the erosion of sociocultural norms, paving the way for an increasingly fluid conception of personal identity.

For some, this increasing tolerance of identity fluidity—facilitated by societal, political, legal, and medical developments—offers emancipation from narrow definitions that sought to curtail expression, experimentation, and, ultimately, self-realization. For others, such fluidity is an assault on traditional values, fostering social movements dedicated to reestablishing “the traditional family,” “true femininity,” “real masculinity,” and, even more menacingly, “racial purity.”

In this salon dedicated to fluidity, we tackled some of these questions: What are the key mechanisms behind the propagation of fluidity? Do fluid identities foster progressive societies? By extension, do monolithic definitions of identity traits necessarily breed fundamentalism? If fluidity is irreducible from choice, is the protean self a manifestation of market capitalism? If encyclopedic museums have historically exhibited material culture derived from a plethora of discrete cultural identities, how can contemporary (art) museums respond to this age of fluidity? How have artists compellingly explored notions of fluidity in their work, and how has their work helped individuals and communities navigate the spectrum of identity expression? How can we move beyond tolerance and assimilation toward total social equity?

The salon took place on 16 September 2015

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