Welcome Drink, one of Stuart Hawkins’s photographic scenarios of herself (she’s female, despite the first name) in Nepal, is such a perfect metaphor for America’s current adventures around the world that it should be made into a billboard and displayed outside all of our embassies. This sign would signal that we know we’re klutzy, reckless, rude, helpless nitwits who think we’re helping the world but actually making almost everyone supremely uncomfortable and irritated, not to mention afraid.
Welcome Drink features the 37-year-old New Yorker, who has been living half the year in Nepal for 15 years, from behind, bending over, perhaps to pick something up or tie her shoe. Watching her is a Nepali waiter carrying a drink. Hawkins is America; the waiter is the rest of the world. As he looks down at her, her dorky striped underpants are plainly visible through her sheer, white, cotton trousers. It’s a scene of unthinking insult, pure slapstick, unaware enticement, utter naïveté, and unmitigated gall. It’s also a hoot.
“Customs,” Hawkins’s quick-witted, whimsical, excruciating New York solo exhibition, includes several large-scale photographs as well as Souvenir, a 20-minute video of the artist making her way through Nepal, having encounters, doing ditzy things, apparently searching for some kind of guru or Shangri-la. Whatever she’s after, Hawkins is a funny, ironic, under-the-radar artist with a great sense of burlesque. She deserves more attention, if only to make you experience a dark empathetic dose of what many around the world must feel when an American walks in the room—a bit sick.