The Many Characters of Kalup Linzy

Taiwan III medKalup Linzy as Taiwan, 2015.
Image by Will Lytch.

USFCAM will feature video and performance artist Kalup Linzy in its next exhibition, A Family Affair, opening August 24. Linzy pays homage to the genre of soap operas in his intentionally low-budget videos, which range from episodic shorts to a feature film. These videos explore his fascination with breaking boundaries of stereotypes, sexuality, gender and society. According to Linzy, the most important theme in his work is “family, friends, and relationships.” Trademarks of his work also include melodrama, dialogue overdubs in his own voice, and the casting of himself in multiple roles, often in drag.

Linzy’s voiceovers began as a class project during his time as a student at USF, where he earned a BFA and an MFA. He recorded a variety of character voices in a staged telephone conversation on video. To explore communication between language and race, he cast two Caucasian friends lip-syncing to his voice in the video. “The way we speak and talk is based on the environment we grew up in—it’s not necessarily about skin color. It’s more about culture, ethnicity, and environment,” Linzy says.

Linzy went on to create All My Churen, a short, soap operatic video that uses overdub to explore his relationship with dialect and Standard English. He planned to stop the overdubs at one point, but realized his voice heightened the dialogue instead, drawing more listeners in. Linzy is also influenced by old Hollywood films, namely the ones where an actor’s voice is replaced with someone else’s—he finds this quality both hilarious and artistically compelling.

The overdubs save his actors the use of their voices; with the dialogue set, they only need to perform with their bodies. Linzy likens the process to a dance: “It’s just interesting to have all of us dance to this script and coordinate our gestures. It becomes like a performance with every person trying to connect to the character but also trying to connect to each other through the character.”

Taiwan SingsKalup Linzy as Taiwan, 2015.
Image by Will Lytch.

When it comes to creating his characters, Linzy says the process involves costumes, archetypes and issues he wants to explore. Sometimes the clothing tells him who the character is. At other times Linzy takes archetypes such as the hero or the mentor and bases characters on them. He cites Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a huge influence. When casting his characters, Linzy pushes for contrast between the actor’s physical appearance and the character’s personality in order to challenge a viewer’s presumptions.

Comedy is always present in Linzy’s work, even when coupled with serious overtones—he believes there is a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Linzy raises the example of All My Churen, where a character dramatically mourns a loved one killed in a drive-by shooting. In the video, the loved one turns out to be a dog, which makes for a good laugh. However, Linzy adds, “It’s funny, but at the same time, people get really sad when their pets die.” Linzy acknowledges that tragic events happen in life and no one can control them, but humor somehow makes everything better: “Laughter and humor saves you from falling too deep into depression.”

Visitors will be able to see a selection of Linzy’s work, including a selection of All My Churen videos, in USFCAM’s fall exhibit, A Family Affair (August 24-December 12, 2015). The exhibit also includes works by LaToya Ruby Frazier, Renee Cox, Jacolby Satterwhite, Hank Willis Thomas, Corine Vermeulen and Deborah Willis.

Kylene Harrington
English Undergraduate
USFCAM Intern Writer

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