Anohni performed underneath a large-scale video portrait installation. The video, in crystal-clear resolution, towered above the blank figure of the performer on stage. On the screen, the audience watched a different woman lip-sync to each of the songs. Anohni herself was completely veiled in a white shroud with arm length gloves, her face concealed as she sang. I spent the whole concert missing the gaze of the performer, the face of the performer, the skin of the performer. This could only be found displaced in the visages of women who appeared on the video screen. Anohni’s costume seemed frustrating, mystical, and fantastic, like the shroud of a saint. With the body veiled, the object appeared from behind the voice of the performer. The performance revealed the potential of the veil to produce an object, an objection, and something abject. The songs transitioned between melancholic and masochistic positions. The effect was bewildering. No one knew quite how to feel or where to find themselves. Anohni speaks of ‘appropriating her own voice’ to disorient her audience. A concert of hip, liberal-minded New Yorkers found themselves swaying to lyrics that celebrated global destruction and crisis.
The first track of the album, ‘Drone Bomb Me’ ecstatically wishes for explosives to drop from the sky. Another song chants, ‘execution, it’s the American Dream’. A third song, titled ‘4 Degrees,’ cries ‘I want to see the animals burn in the sky’ championing global climate change. This struck me as a new kind of protest through art, a different strategy of conscientious objection. Her voice is so heart wrenching that it pushes the lyrics beyond irony to a position of abandon. A strikingly beautiful abjection was achieved through assuming the status of the object. Anohni appeared in between mystic trance and political martyr but always with exquisite composition. She describes her role as artist: ‘I got to thinking perhaps as an artist, even as an artist with the best of intentions, that I was kind of a microcosm of the brokenness of the whole system. That within my body I contained the whole conflict.’
It is not surprising that we might learn what it is to be a woman, from a transgendered woman. Anohni’s music, which leans towards art and performance, is a testament to her lifelong struggle to invent a woman for herself. Yet for her, this woman may be found only in a myriad of other women and not just within her own body. Her veiled performance underneath video portraits suggested that to be a woman is to be in between identifications. A woman is trans.