Mascots are a common sight at outdoor festivals. Who among us hasn’t hugged a life-sized cartoon character without knowing who’s inside?
For queer activist Cindy Baker, this phenomenon is the jumping-off point for her performance piece Personal Appearance. Baker will be bringing the work, in which she interacts with the public while wearing a professional mascot costume of herself, to Westfest.
“I like to work in the public as much as possible,” Baker says, noting that she enjoys interacting with people and observing their reactions. She also likes challenging people to reevaluate their ideas of what they consider attractive. Her previous work has included a show with photographs of her hands that resemble nude portraits and a piece entitled All Things to All Men (and Women), in which she sewed panties for a variety of bodies.
“A lot of my work does challenge people to rethink ideas of beauty,” she says. “I do believe the diversity of the population is just astounding and everyone has the potential to be an object of desire.”
As Baker began doing more public performance, her body became integral. “It became apparent fairly quickly that I really needed to address body issues in my work, because people were reading it into the content whether I wanted it to be there or not,” she says. Personal Appearance grew out of this exploration. She has performed it once before at Westfest, where it was so well received she was asked to bring it back this year.
Often people don’t realize that Baker is performing when they approach her. “It’s a chance to get people putting their arms around a fat person and thinking about me as a lovable, friendly creature,” she explains. “It’s really interesting to do work in the public that engages in that way, because to some people it’s just a part of the festival atmosphere.”
She finds that people lose their inhibitions around the mascot in ways they never would with a real person, sometimes even sexualizing the mascot by lifting her skirt or feeling her up.
Baker will be performing Personal Appearance throughout the day on Saturday, June 8. “I’m really excited to come back to Westfest,” she says.
Queer highlights at Westfest
Thurs, June 6
Lyndell Montgomery, of Captain Dirt and The Skirt, 7:15pm
Zoe Whittall, 8:25pm
Fri, June 7
The Cliks, 6pm
Sun, June 9
Amanda Rheaume, 8pm
Cara Tierney, 9:30pm