On the cover of Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, the new wave, post-punk, dub pop artist isn’t made-up. No, she’s covered, totally painted in dark blue metallic paint, a blue-black island sheen that echoes her Armani jacket. It was that image – and, more importantly, that decision to paint Grace, to cover her up and create a new, hyper-signification of race as this absurd, mythic ideal – that led me to pick this cover as a Halloween costume. I was in undergrad, just having transferred to an art school with a wild Halloween reputation. “This,” I thought, “ought to make an impression.” And so began an annual series of appearances as Ms. Jones.
Grace has been to school parties, in parades and under fashion tents, she’s been to London, LA, New York. Being Grace Jones makes a fun system, come Halloween: the question being not, “what will I be this year,” but “which Grace…?” Often, people object. It’s crass, racist, inappropriate. But they’re missing the point, which is not to use blackface to emulate Grace’s dark skin, but to over-extend it, so that it becomes something else, entirely. Watch the One Man Show video, look at her, in whiteface in Vamp or on the cover of Paper, trace her collaboration with stylist/photographer/ex-husband/baby-daddy Jean Paul Goude. During the (aptly named) Island years of her recording career (1980 – 82), Grace Jones constructed her defiant image by parodying racial stereotypes, sending them up by performing in cages, in masks, with tom toms. I like to tell people that parading as Ms. Jones is a continuation of this aesthetic critique. Some permutation of a parodic pop politic. And it’s awful fun – the costumes, the shock on peoples’ faces, the id that is Ms. Jones. I always talk about Grace in third person, a complete persona that I just slide into. She gets away with things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. But she always turns it out.