The Occupied Body: Denise Uyehara

Melody Erhuy

To say I liked Denise Uyehara’s performance and talk at Pitzer College on February 13th, 2013 would be an understatement. I was uncomfortable, scared, moved, uplifted, and changed. Never having been exposed to performance art like Uyehara’s forms of expression, I was confused at first – the ‘faceless’ police-woman circling the auditorium while wielding a flashlight was not necessarily what I had expected. Yet through her use of audio in her first performance, much like her use of a blue marker in the latter live act, the pieces began to convey her messages strongly, giving them a voice to be heard.

What could be considered a melodramatic play by some, Uyehara’s performance art stands away from theatrics and has a bigger purpose than merely just entertainment: to inform. Citing grassroots activism continuously through her talk, Uyehara portrays her emotions and sentiment towards real-life events and discussions through her performance work, beautifully masquerading as a form of protest that is very effective. For example, the act about Ms. Celia Abrams and her adoptive mother was haunting not only in her exemplification of the mother’s coarse blue scars, but in the repetition of “Dancing Queen” throughout the passage. Beginning and ending with the upbeat song, the song serves as not only a great introductory hook, but it also becomes a relic of the past later on in the performance, one when heard again brings back memories of the beginning and thus acts more on the audience’s empathy for the sad ending. The feelings of loneliness and sorrow that Mrs. Abrams must have felt once in a home are amplified to the audience through this repetition, and her Holocaust-survivor/Alzheimer’s story becomes even more real to the viewer. This reach at the audience’s heartstrings is one of the best forms of activism; in order to gain a following for your cause (or even have your voice be listened to, in this case), the viewer must be affected by it in some way. Uyehara, moreover, takes this to her advantage as she introduces these elements into her live performances to give her act a louder voice and the audience a heavier heart.

On another note, I could especially relate to Uyehara during her description of what it is like to be from Orange County; she put what I have always thought about myself into a beautiful set of words. “In Orange County, there’s amnesia. […] You were told to blend in, in different ways.” Growing up in Orange County for my entire life, I can completely relate to this need to blend in – to have the same ‘it’ bag as everyone else, to shop at the same stores as everyone else does, to have sandals by Steve Madden because everyone and their moms buys the same sandals for summer. I get it. I am too always a little wary of saying I am from Orange County, because of the feedback I receive. Many people assume I am spoiled, I am filthy rich, and I probably drive an expensive car. It’s hard to convey that I work for everything I have and I drive a Honda Fit without awkwardly saying so – sometimes it’s just easier to say I’m from Southern California (like around Disneyland!) so people do not get the wrong idea. I have the same need as Uyehara to “make a place in my head to escape the OC”, because sometimes it is easier living the way you’d like inside your own head than trying to make a new one physically.


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